What are Biologicals and Why Are They Important?

Biological crop protection products, also called “biologicals,” represent a broad category of plant protection products that are derived from living organisms.Growers use biologicals to complement chemical products in an integrated pest management (IPM) program,or as stand-alone method, for protecting plants from disease, insect pests and competition from weeds. Here Robyn Kneen, Head Global Regulatory Affairs Biologics Bayer, explains more.

How do biologicals differ from pesticides?

The biggest difference between biologicals andchemicals is that biologicals are made from living or naturally occurring materials and chemicals are not. Biologicals can be chemically synthesized but nature-like in composition. Both types of products offer protection against a wide variety of plant diseases, insect pests, and weeds for the farmers who use them.

How do they fit into an IPM strategy?

Biologicals won’t replace chemical crop protection products but they do complement each other when used with an effective IPM strategy. They can provide a more holistic approach for growers to maximize crop yields, improv equality and minimize pest resistance.

How are biological products regulated?

The regulatory environment for biologicals differs between countries and regions. Generally, authorities around the world recognize that biological plant protection products are beneficial but different from chemical plant protection products.Even so, this recognition has not necessarily lead to consistent approaches in regulatory requirements or review processes. In some countries, biologicals are registered under specific legislation, or they may be registered in a similar manner to chemical plant protection products. Sometimes there are reduced data requirements and other times, there may be no well-defined process at all for their registration at all.

How do farmers ensure the responsible use of biologicals?

In similar ways to chemical crop protection. Farmers can apply biologicals with the same equipment used for their chemical products directly to plants or to the soil in which the plants are grown, or as a seed treatment.

Because they may contain living organisms as active ingredients, biologicals may have certain storage,handling and application requirements that are critical to their efficacy. Growers are responsible for these best management practices as well as thoroughly reading labels and following instructions from the manufacturer. These instructions detail proper storage temperature, application timing and methods, product shelf life and compatibility.

What crops are biologicals used on?

On more crops than you think! Biologicals are used throughout the world with a wide range of fruits, vegetables and tree-nuts, as well as row and field crops. Biologicals are versatile and work in both organic and conventional crop production systems.

What are the key benefits of biologicals in agriculture?

Sustainability: Biologicals are an essential tool in sustainable agriculture. They are a functional component to an effective Integrated Pest Management (IPM)strategy and contribute to environmentally responsible production systems.

Crop Yield and Quality: Biologicals help improve crop yields and quality. This helps growers deliver healthy and affordable feed and food products to consumers around the world. Biologicals help with resistance management because of their different modes of action which results in increased yields and farm profitability over the long term.

Flexibility in Spray Programs: Biologicals offer growers convenience and flexibility in spray timing due to short re-entry (REI) and pre-harvest intervals (PHIs). Short re-entry means that farmers can go into the field or greenhouse immediately or within a short period after a biological crop protection product application. Short PHIs refer to the wait time between application and harvest. Having short ones allow harvest and shipping schedules to be better maintained. Growers can also more easily manage the differences in residue requirements when getting their products to the food value chain.

Residue Management: Biologicals typically do not linger in the environment. Since they rapidly degrade, possible harmful exposure risk to humans and the environment is reduced. Biological products are often exempted from Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) – helping to improve the global marketability of crops treated with biologicals.

Resistance Management: An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy that combines biological, genetic and chemical crop protection products will utilize multiple modes of action and provide a sustainable approach to the management of resistance.

Are biologicals safe?

Yes! Biologicals go through stringent registration and science-based risk assessment to make sure they are safe for humans and the environment. All crop protection products, whether biological or chemical, must meet the highest safety criteria to be approved for use.

Are biological products as effective as chemical crop protection products?

They are effective in different ways. Many modern biological crop protection products are expected to match the performance of chemical products, particularly when pest or disease pressure is low to moderate.

Even with advances in technology and increasing investment in R&D, biologicals deliver lower levels of control and more variable performance than their chemical counterparts. For example, biologicals might reduce pest pressure, but not remove the pest entirely. Additionally, some biologicals take longer to act on the target disease or pest, but their effects may be longer lasting. Many biologicals are best used as a preventative and may perform the best when applied early in the season.

Are biologicals considered organic?

No. Biological crop protection products are not necessarily considered to be organic, but they can be a valuable tool for organic growers. Biologicals can be certified by independent certification bodies for use as inputs for organic agriculture. The rules for use vary by regulation, but despite the products themselves not being organic, they still can function as a pesticide available to organic growers.