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Having a Vision without Ditching the Facts

We all have a vision of what we want to be, the world we would like to live in, and what good or “perfect” looks like. There are many ways of producing food but which is the right one and how would you know?

We all have our biases, beliefs and perspectives. And we live in a time when we can choose what news we want to hear, and filter out other perspectives, ensuring that we only hear what fits with our viewpoint. How often do people say “I hear what you are saying, but….” and you know they are not listening? Or “In my opinion….” when what they actually mean is that there are only two opinions in the world; theirs and the wrong one.

What is much more difficult, unless you work at it, is to actively seek out other viewpoints, listen to the arguments and fact-check your own and others’ beliefs.  

Views on Agriculture tend to be Just as Polarised

Shifting the story to agriculture, and everyone, from farmers and growers to producers and distributors of tools for farmers, companies, retailers, scientists, politicians and environmental groups, all have a perspective on what farmers should grow and how they should grow them. Most tend to gravitate, listen and adopt those views of the individuals or groups that best fit their own vision of what farming should look like, and tend to reject, diminish the importance of and ignore those who do not fit that vision. Thus, if you believe that productive agriculture is the only way to feed the planet, you will listen to those who espouse that view. Conversely, if you believe that organic farming is the way forward and that feeding the world will be solved simply by reducing food waste and moving to a more plant-based diet, you will focus on those sorts of stories for your “facts”.

So what about facts? Surely they are immutable? They are to a point, but you have to find them first and verify their accuracy second. Supposition abounds in agriculture – with many people assuming “they know”. For example, which country produces the most wheat? A quick straw poll comes back with the answer being the United States, or Russia, or Canada and Australia, perhaps? In fact, it is China with India a close second. Between them, these two countries are responsible for nearly 30% of the global wheat production – nearly twice as much as Russia and the US combined! The reason we do not think of those countries as being important in this sector is probably because they use almost all of their wheat within their own borders. We hear about the US, Russia, Canada and Australia in connection with wheat production because they are wheatexporting countries.

Constructive Use of Biopesticides

In which case, what does that tell us about biopesticides? The table below, derived from an AgroChemicalInfo article in 2017, summarises what some people see as the positives and negatives of these alternatives to conventional chemical control of pests and diseases, with our comments in italics.

Potential PositivesPotential Negatives
Biopesticides act only on target pests and diseases.
This is not a given; products, both conventional and biocontrol agents, need to be tested to understand their effect on non-target organisms.
Not Host Specific: They are not very target specific.
Often the case but again needs to be demonstrated for an individual product. There are plenty of examples of non-host specific conventional products.
Produce a negligible amount of toxic residue. Often the case but needs to be demonstrated for an individual product.Slow Action: Unlike their counterparts, biopesticides are generally slow in nature. Sometimes the case but needs to be demonstrated for an individual product.
You will never face the problem of pesticide resistance which is quite common with conventional agro chemicals.
Often the case but needs to be demonstrated for an individual product.
Low Shelf Life: Conventional pesticides have at least 2 years of shelf life. This is not the same for the bio pesticides. This will depend on the biopesticide. If it is a living organism, this is sometimes a problem. For others, stability is not an issue.
This suits best as a part of the IPM or Integrated Pest Management program.
IPM should be in place for all pest and disease control situations.
Recommended Dose: The recommended dose for the biopesticides is high.
Sometimes the case but needs to be demonstrated for an individual product.
They are safe to use which is not in the case of conventional pesticides. Often the case but needs to be demonstrated for an individual product. Being natural is not a guarantee of safety.You should have greater knowledge to use them effectively in your fields.
Invariably true, the margin for error is much less for most biopesticides
You can use biopesticide as the second line of defence Yes, or first line in many cases 
They cause no pollution as they are naturally occurring in nature. Often the case but needs to be demonstrated for an individual product. Being natural is not a guarantee of safety.
The cost of biopesticides is very often less compared to conventional pesticides. Often the case but needs to be demonstrated for an individual product.

The perception with some farmers is that biopesticides are difficult to use, are prone to failure, and should only be used when there are no alternatives. For them, these are the “facts”. Those who do work with biopesticides tell us that you do have to be more aware of getting the application of such products “just right” but that the efficacy of modern biopesticides is more than adequate, and that the lack of residues associated with them means that in some situations, especially late in the growing season they are the only suitable product for the job.

The AlphaBio Vision

The AlphaBio vision has always been to research, develop and bring through the regulatory process new biopesticides from natural sources that could be inserted into current pest and disease control programmes. A visionary but pragmatic approach to a big problem and one that has resulted in, for example, FLiPPER®, a bioinsecticide already making a big difference. Such products need to be highly safe, demonstrably effective, better for the environment, preferably with zero residues, and work in the hands of farmers and growers. That is our vision, based on the facts to hand. No pretence that they are all really easy to use and no demonising farmers’ current attempts to feed an ever-increasing population. But improving our way of doing so. One spray at a time.