Are Sustainable Biopesticides the Future for Agriculture?

insights from industrySean SmithCEOEden Research

In this interview, we speak to Sean Smith, CEO of Eden Research, about their sustainable biopesticides and how they are helping to combat plastic pollution. We also discuss the future of sustainability within agriculture. 

Please can you introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Eden Research?

Hello, I’m Sean Smith, CEO of Eden Research. My background lies within the field of chemistry and microbiology and I have spent the majority of my career in the chemicals and life sciences industries. Throughout this time, I have held various business development and executive roles at companies such as Baker Hughes, Pennzoil (now owned by Shell), Ciba, and Honeywell.

Since arriving at Eden Research seven years ago, my role has been focused on growing the business by advancing the development and registration of our environmentally friendly crop protection products and technologies and building the company’s brand and commercialisation strategies and partnerships as we look towards our next phase of growth. I am supported by an ambitious team of experts with significant experience within their respective fields.

I am also driven by our company’s overarching goal to develop and commercialise sustainable products, inspired by nature itself, that can make a truly positive impact on achieving our environmental goals without compromise.

Eden Research is a company focused on global crop protection. Please could you tell us more about why Eden was founded and what some of your core aims and missions are?

Eden was founded to meet the needs of global farmers seeking sustainable, affordable, and effective alternatives to conventional chemical pesticides. Our mission is to be the leader in sustainable crop protection, supporting farmers by protecting their high-value crops, improving crop yields and marketability, and allowing them to keep up with rising global demand.

Eden Research is the only UK-listed company focused on biopesticides for sustainable agriculture. We develop and supply innovative biopesticide products and natural microencapsulation technologies to the global crop protection, animal health, and consumer products industries. Eden’s crop protection products are derived from natural plant chemistry and are used on high-value fruits and vegetables, improving crop yields and marketability.

EDEN RESEARCH 2021

One of your main focus areas at Eden Research is biopesticides. Pesticides are commonly used within agriculture but in some cases, they have been associated with a  range of health effects and environmental problems. What is the purpose of pesticide use within agriculture and why are you looking to provide sustainable alternatives?

By 2050, global food systems will be responsible for feeding more than nine billion people (source). The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) projects that food and feed production will need to increase by 70 percent by 2050 to meet the world’s food needs (source). This places pressure on farmers and food systems to keep up.

Crops are vulnerable to attack from insects, weeds, and diseases and the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 20-40 percent of global crop production is lost to pests each year. This results in staggering financial losses due to diseases and insects of $220 billion and $70 billion, respectively. To counter this, farmers across the world spend billions of dollars every year on products that help them protect their crops so they can keep up with food demand.

Pesticides are a critical component of effective crop protection. However, some conventional pesticides have been shown to be harmful to human health or the environment.

With the rise of ethical consumerism, people are becoming increasingly concerned about the provenance of the food they’re ingesting as well as the wider impact that agriculture can have on the environment. In response to consumer demands, regulators have become more active in assessing the impacts of pesticides and, when they deem necessary, banning them, as demonstrated by the recent EU ban of chlorothalonil despite the fact that it was the UK’s most used pesticide.

This means that the number of active ingredients available to farmers is getting smaller and smaller, leaving limited choices when it comes to protecting their crops. Farmers, therefore, require sustainable alternatives that can compete with traditional chemical products, on ease of use, efficacy, safety, cost, and reliability, in order to secure future strong crop yields and are turning to biopesticides as a solution.

Eden provides two such alternatives for farmers via its naturally derived bio-pesticide products, Mevalone® and Cedroz™.

Can you tell us more about your biopesticides including their ingredients and their advantages over traditional pesticides?

Eden’s products are formulated with sustainable active ingredients referred to as ‘terpenes’, which are based on natural plant defence molecules. They are currently used mainly on high-value fruits and vegetables, improving crop yields and marketability, with equal or better performance when compared with conventional pesticides.

These products give growers reduced risk, increased flexibility, and security. They are exempt from pesticide residue limits, are allowed in EU organic farming, can be used up to the point of harvest, and are equally as effective as conventional chemistry.

Eden’s has two flagship, commercial products; Mevalone and Cedroz, and several more products are under development including a bio-insecticide and a seed treatment product.

Mevalone is a foliar, contact biofungicide that is used as a preventative and curative solution for Botrytis cinerea, a necrotrophic fungus that affects many plant species, most notably, wine grapes. The annual economic losses due to Botrytis cinerea is estimated to be between $10-100 billion, depending upon the growing season. It can result in 28% post-harvest apple losses and 50% yield losses in grapes.

Mevalone provides an effective and cost-effective alternative to conventional chemical pesticides and is approved for use on, grapes, apples, kiwi, aubergine, pomegranate and spring onions.

The cost of control of B. cinerea and related species accounts for up to about 8% of the fungicide market worldwide, demonstrating the significant opportunity available to Eden with this product.

Cedroz is a post-planting nematicide that tackles root-knot nematodes, which are one of the most economically damaging species of plant-parasitic nematodes, causing an estimated $300m of damage per year in Europe alone. It is residue-free with a zero-day pre-harvest interval, which allows farmers to apply the product right up to harvest for maximum protection. Though always subject to local regulations, Cedroz can be used in both open field and greenhouse environments on a wide range of fruit and veg, including tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, and peppers. It is distinct from traditional nematicides, some of which no longer meet regulatory standards.

Crops

Image Credit: AJ Laing/Shutterstock.com

You also produce plastic-free, biodegradable microcapsules. How are these microcapsules made and how they are helping to reduce the global microplastic pollution problem? 

There is increasing consumer and regulatory pressure to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic in supply chains, and we are increasingly hearing more and more about microplastics infiltrating the environment, including plant and animal tissue.

In farming, microplastics are used in encapsulation to boost the performance of agricultural inputs, including crop protection products.

Agriculture is the largest user of intentionally added microplastics and the volume of microplastic pollution in the EU alone is estimated to be close to 36,000 tonnes per year according to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the equivalent of the impact of 10 billion plastic bottles. (Source)

ECHA has proposed an EU-wide restriction on the marketing or use of intentionally-added microplastics. The proposed restriction includes the use of microplastics for agricultural and horticultural purposes, including polymers utilized for controlled-release fertilizers, encapsulated plant protection products (PPPs), seed coatings and biocides.

One acceptable alternative is the substitution with biodegradable formulations.

Eden has developed a proven, viable solution to the microplastics problem in the form of Sustaine® microcapsules.

These are naturally sourced, plastic-free, biodegradable microspheres derived from yeast extract which can be used in place of plastic-based alternatives across agriculture (for example to deliver crop protection products) and horticulture.

What do you believe the future of sustainability within agriculture will look like? Are you hopeful that we will see more and more companies turning to sustainable solutions in farming?

As people become more conscious of their consumption habits and impact on the environment and regulators continue to restrict the use of conventional chemicals in agriculture, farmers will continue to adopt more sustainable solutions, as they will be left with little alternative.

As things stand, the process for banning or restricting the use of pesticides happens at a much swifter rate than the approval process for new biopesticides and sustainable alternatives.  Farmers are therefore facing a declining choice of crop protection products with few alternatives approved and ready.

The British farming community has expressed serious concerns about this clampdown, seeing the bans as a threat to productivity on the farm. Pesticides are a critical input and without them, commercial yields can be significantly impacted.

To counter this, there is a need for regulators, such as the UK’s Chemicals Regulation Division, to facilitate quicker approvals for new sustainable products. Adequate resourcing of the regulators by governments globally seems to be a significant challenge and one that needs to be addressed if farmers are to be presented with new, sustainable solutions to problems that affect their productivity.

Farmers should, however, have some faith in the system, as one positive to emerge from the changing landscape is that regulation is driving innovation in crop protection, an industry that has admittedly lagged behind the pace of innovation in other industries in the past. The current state of play has fuelled much-needed investment and increased interest in developing alternatives that meet regulatory standards, without compromising efficacy. In fact, biological solutions are the fastest-growing segment of the crop protection industry today. 

Eden’s approach is about marrying up plant-derived sustainable solutions with the best of conventional chemistry, i.e. the traditional ways of formulating pesticides. Our view is that this will enable alternatives to not only address regulatory demands but also help make farming more sustainable for all involved. 

Despite the regulatory lag, sustainable alternatives are available and being applied to all facets of farming. Allowing new sustainable biopesticides to enter the market more rapidly will help make headway towards greener farming practices, meeting the ethical expectations set by consumers. The global shift towards sustainable solutions is an important opportunity for the agriculture industry to embrace the benefits of sustainable chemistry and begin influencing other key stakeholders to follow suit.

Sustainable Agriculture

Image Credit: sarayut_sy/Shutterstock.com

What is next for Eden Research? Are you involved in any exciting upcoming projects?

We are really excited about the future for Eden. Despite an uncertain backdrop caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made progressive strides in recent years that have positioned us well to meet global demands for sustainable and plastic-free agricultural solutions that will have a long-term positive impact on the planet.

We have a number of exciting commercial opportunities ahead of us, including product expansion into the US market, subject to pending EPA approval. The US has a fast-growing organic, ‘green’ and eco-label food market and they are focused on accelerating regulation around the use of harmful pesticides to catch up with their international counterparts. Eden’s sustainable biopesticides are well placed to capitalize on this significant opportunity upon the anticipated EPA approval.

We are also currently working with Corteva, one of the world’s largest agriculture companies, to develop our first seed treatment product, which uses Eden’s proprietary, plastic-free Sustaine encapsulation technology.

In addition, we are continuing to develop our regulatory footprint in new markets and across new crop types. We look forward to what the rest of 2022 will bring!

Where can readers find more information?

Readers can find out more about Eden Research by visiting our website: https://www.edenresearch.com/, by reading our blog: https://www.edenresearch.com/food_for_thought) or by following us on Twitter at @EdenResearch

About Sean Smith

Sean Smith is the CEO of Eden Research and has over 25 years of experience in the chemicals and life sciences industry. Sean joined Eden Research in 2014. His role has been centred around the commercialisation of Eden’s crop protection products and technology, as well as advancing its research and development capabilities within the agriculture and consumer care industries.

After graduating from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology, Sean started his career in the specialty chemicals industry with Baker Hughes before moving to Pennzoil Products (now part of Shell) and then Honeywell. In 1996, Sean joined Swiss-based specialty chemical giant Ciba (now BASF) where, among other commercial roles, he was responsible for monetising the company’s IP as a tradable asset.

Sean also worked with IP powerhouse Intellectual Ventures on a number of key projects including the formation of sustainable materials science businesses and the origination of IP-backed transactions across Europe.

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