Managing pests is an important part of the farming industry – crop yields depend on it. Pesticides kill pests, or harmful organisms. Biopesticides are naturally occurring and are derived from plants, animals and microorganisms. Chemical pesticides are just that – chemical.
Biopesticides only account for a relatively small portion of the total pesticide market but it is growing – the Asia-Pacific market is especially booming due to increased adoption in some emerging countries. Organic farmers rely on biopesticides to manage pests; however, non-organic farmers are turning to biopesticides in their droves due to increasing acknowledgement of their benefits. Here we take a look at the main advantages of biopesticides over the more standard chemical pesticides.
More specific pest targeting
When chemical pesticides get used it is estimated that as little as 0.1% of it will engage with its specific target. The rest can end up in water sources and soil, adversely affecting plant and animal life. Conversely, biopesticides do not cause any harm to crops or wildlife – they also do not leave residue on produce may be consumed by animals, or even humans. The correct natural enemy is matched with a corresponding pest, making the targeting process a lot more specific.
Biopesticides are more effective than chemical pesticides
Chemical pesticides are formulated to work through one mode of action – pests are killed quickly. However, biopesticides have multiple modes of action. They may, for example, sabotage the pest’s reproduction or digestion. The rapid kill action of the chemical pesticide, in some cases, may be needed. However, it may work better in conjunction with the different biological modes of the biopesticides. It is not always a case of chemical pesticide or biopesticide – both can be used together for better results.
Biopesticides are inexpensive compared to chemical pesticides
Whilst the research, development and production costs of chemical pesticides can be astronomical, biopesticides are naturally occurring therefore the resulting production costs are lower in comparison. This high cost inevitably gets passed on to the customer, the farmers in this case, leading to increased profits or enabling them to produce even better value for money for the ultimate consumer.
Biopesticides are more convenient to use
Since chemical pesticides are toxic, specific rules must be followed during use. The Restricted Entry Interval (REI), and other guidelines, for each pesticide must be adhered to. For example, the fumigant methyl bromide is highly toxic and can be easily absorbed into the lungs, gut and skin. Being exposed to it for even just a short time can make an agricultural worker become unwell – it can even be fatal. Biopesticides, on the other hand, do not have this issue. Returning to the field is, generally, a lot quicker – this means more time can be spent productively.
There is some evidence to suggest that pests become resistant to chemical pesticides through natural selection. This is particularly worrying for farmers who use this method to ensure protected for their crops. The evolution into “superpests” can also lead to over-use of pesticides to compensate, and the problem gets worse – both for the environment and the farmers bank balance. This is not the case with biopesticides, they remain effective over time.
Biopesticides are quicker getting to market
Chemical fertilizers can take over a decade to be approved for use. Biopesticides in comparison, although also needing approved, can go from idea to market in less than five years. The biopesticide industry can innovate at a quicker rate and keep up with the changing needs of farmers.
More popular with customers
Customers are becoming increasingly aware of the health dangers, as well as the negative environmental impact, caused by chemical pesticides. Pesticide residues in food products can cause a myriad of short and long-term health effects. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of this – and in some cases switch to products that have been farmed using organic principles. This could, potentially, result in significant financial loses for farms that use chemical pesticides.
The bottom line
Although chemical pesticides dominate the pesticide market, conventional farmers are moving towards the use of biopesticides. It is difficult to ignore their benefits – more economical, more eco-friendly and more convenient! The use of biopesticides has been increasing over the past two decades and this trend looks set to continue. This is good news for the environment due to the extensive damage chemical pesticides can cause to plants and wildlife.