Heavy reliance on existing chemicals

29 Mar, 2017 11:29 AM
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Increasing constraints by regulatory authorities and intense public scrutiny of chemical use, make crop protection chemistry breakthroughs less likely to reach the market despite increasing chemical resistance problems on farms.
Increasing constraints by regulatory authorities and intense public scrutiny of chemical use, make crop protection chemistry breakthroughs less likely to reach the market despite increasing chemical resistance problems on farms.

FARMERS and chemical makers will have to think smarter about how to best use existing crop protection chemistry rather than rely on science to repeatedly produce magic bullets to beat resistance issues.

Crop chemistry will continue to evolve and deliver important gains for agriculture, but tweaking the way existing modes of action are deployed will be just as critical, says BASF's global crop protection registration senior vice-president Jurgen Oldeweme.

Farmers and their agronomists must also be smart about managing for chemical resistance on-farm, recognising weed, disease and insect problems were highly unlikely to be solved simply with one strategy.

Dr Oldeweme said the challenge was much more than the fast rising costs associated with identifying and developing fresh active ingredients.

Increasing constraints by regulatory authorities and intense public scrutiny of chemical use, particularly in Europe, made chemistry breakthroughs less likely to reach the market or much slower.

"Some active ingredients just will not be available to farmers, but these challenges also push us to be innovative about how we approach resistance pressures," he said.

"Beating resistance doesn't just mean finding new modes of action, but also managing and mixing different formulations already at hand and adopting a holistic approach to the research and development problem.

"Resistance is certainly a driver for our innovation priorities all over the world and we have many unmet needs to deal with."

Dealing with plant resistance to certain herbicides or disease resistance to fungicides may mean identifying similar modes of action to mix in new formulations and managing them differently.

"If you can sufficiently weaken the herbicide resistant population it's sometimes possible to start using older products again," said BASF's Australian agriculture head Gavin Jackson.

Recently registered BASF herbicide Butisan was not necessarily based on a new mode of action, but its reformulated chemistry was available to control, among other things, ryegrass in canola.

This would help farmers tackle the overall problem of resistant seed lingering in the paddock, not just problems in one season's crop.

"Ryegrass resistance is everywhere around Australia and this product offers an exciting opportunity to weaken the resistance on a broad front," he said.

"We could probably sell five times as much Butisan than we'll have available, but registration approval has only just come through."

Developing fresh treatment strategies to proactively deal with problems early was important, too.

Newly barley and wheat seed treatment, Systiva, provided systemic fungicide treatment protecting emerging plants against spot and net blotch and thereby avoiding the need for an early preventative foliar spray, or spraying when the crop was older and clearly damaged by disease.

"In most cases, by the time you identify a disease problem which needs spraying it has already blown out and spread, weakening the crop and its yield prospects - especially in high rainfall zones or wet seasons like last year," Mr Jackson said.

Globally BASF is looking to achieve peak agricultural chemical sales totalling more than $4.2 billion a year by 2025.

Growth in the company's Asian markets, particularly for herbicide and fungicides, will contribute significantly to that goal.

"Asia has not been a strong region for us compared to the United States or Europe," said Asia Pacific crop protection senior vice president Gustavo Palerosi Carneiro.

"But we've got a lot of new products in the pipeline for the region and we are looking at how those formulations might be applicable to Australia."

With the development costs for just one new active ingredient in a crop chemical exceeding $280 million, Mr Jackson said BASF's Australian research and advisory team wanted to make maximum use of any opportunity to trial overseas product developments in local conditions.

"Justifying these huge development expenses becomes much easier when there is the opportunity to introduce products that will have a broad reach," he said.

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FarmOnline
Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media

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