Biopesticides could be widely available to UK growers by the end of the decade, if funding for a start-up company looking to register these products is successful.
Affordable biopesticides owned by farmers is the mantra behind a grower-led group looking to capitalise on the success of these products in Kenyan flower and vegetable crops.
Buckinghamshire farmer Antony Pearce is looking to link up with Kenyan company Real IPM (standing for Integrated Pest Management), run by Louise Labuschagne and her husband, Henry Wainwright.
They are leading an effort to raise €3m (£2.2m) to register these products for global use – and in the future these might include products to control blackgrass and potato cyst nematodes.
Biopesticides, which are naturally occurring microbes such as fungi and bacteria, have allowed many African farmers to cut back on chemical pesticide use.
“The development of biopesticides in Kenya came after chemicals were seen not to be working, and now rose growers in Kenya don’t need to use as many chemicals,” Ms Labuschagne tells Farmers Weekly.
She is looking for farmers, farming companies, foundations and trust funds to finance expansion.
The funding is needed to get European Union registration for the group’s six products: the company requires €500,000 (£364,000) to get an OECD data package for each of its four insecticides and two fungicides.
Mr Pearce has set up Real IPM UK and as managing director is leading the process to try to provide biological alternatives to chemical pesticides for UK growers. This follows his visit to Kenya with a group of UK farmers to see the use of biopesticides.
Of particular interest for UK growers is a fungus called Metarhizium 69 that kills fruit flies in orchards and soft fruit – and which could even control cabbage stem flea beetles in oilseed rape.
Another product is a seed treatment called Trichoderma asperellum, registered as a fertiliser in South Africa and as a nematicide in Kenya, which might have a use against potato cyst nematodes, especially relevant with the shortage of chemical nematicide Vydate (oxamyl) this season
In addition, work by crop consultancy Niab Tab in the UK is looking at pathogens that could possibly control problematic blackgrass.
Ms Labuschagne counters arguments over how effective these products are by saying that biopesticides became popular only because chemicals were failing, and resistance problems have not been seen with their use.
With fewer new chemical pesticide actives coming on to the market, she argues, farmers will need biopesticides at a price that they can afford.
Potential investors are being invited to a meeting in London on 28 October and Ms Labuschagne is confident funds will be raised to allow the first of Real IPM’s products to be registered. There is just one catch: the minimum investment is €50,000 (£36,000).
If the fundraising is successful and four years of data is collected, some of the six products from Real IPM could be launched in the UK by 2020.
Meanwhile, if the €3m target is exceeded it will give investors a chance to take over the Kenyan operation, employing 250 staff, and leave Ms Labuschagne and husband with a minority stake in the company.
Links will be maintained with Kenya because fixed day lengths and temperatures near the equator allow for production around the year. The Kenyan operation is also low-cost.
The amount of chemicals used in the Kenyan rose industry has been halved in the past decade, which has sparked interest from supermarkets looking to cut chemical residues.
There is now work under way to produce residue-free soft fruit, herbs, tomatoes and green beans in Africa for these supermarket groups, she says.
In Kenya, many growers are mixing half-rate chemicals with full-rate biopesticides with some success, and this may point towards a future integrated approach.
Many agrochemical giants have been buying up biopesticide groups. They see that these products could be part of a combined biopesticide-conventional chemistry strategy.