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Precision agri-tech could accelerate uptake of biologicals if regulations can keep up

Agri-TechE Article

Agri-TechE and Cambridge Consultants identify benefit of multi-disciplinary collaboration

The adoption of biological crop protection is being delayed by a regulatory environment that has failed to keep abreast of innovations that would make these products easier and more effective to use. This is according to a new report, ‘Precision spraying and biologicals – driving collaboration’, to be launched at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit USA (19-20th March 2024).

The report, produced by Agri-TechE in collaboration with Cambridge Consultants, part of Capgemini Invent, draws on the input from agronomists, agrichemical providers, formulators and equipment and machinery developers.

It reveals that there is significant market pull for biologicals from consumers and retailers keen to reduce the chemical residues left in food products and the environment. There is also a market push from the regulators, looking to reduce the usage of synthetic chemicals.

The report outlines the obstacles to adoption that could be overcome by existing agri-tech, accelerating the uptake of these products.

Co-author Dr Belinda Clarke is Director of Agri-TechE, a multi-disciplinary membership organisation that is facilitating the growth of a global innovation ecosystem in agri-tech.

She comments: “A desire for more sustainable practices in agriculture is driving interest in biological crop protection products, but the perception is that they are more costly to purchase, time-consuming to apply and less effective than the synthetic equivalents.

“Many of these reservations could be resolved by recent innovations in precision agriculture that more easily enable ‘per row’ and ‘per plant’ application cost-effectively within stringent spraying conditions,” she continues. “Unfortunately, the regulatory environment has not kept up with developments and is still centred around the ‘number of applications’ instead of the ‘total amount’ of active ingredient used across the field, and this is hindering developments.”

Advances in equipment – such as direct injection nozzles for sprayers – are reducing the cost of using biologicals, and robotics that enable automated application are increasing precision.

One of the examples in the report is the treatment of spider mites and russet mites in speciality crops. Autonomous equipment is used to apply predatory mites at night with greater accuracy than humans. This greatly increased the efficacy of the treatment. As navigation technologies improve these developments are becoming more accessible.

Dr Clarke concludes: “The industry urgently requires a more collaborative approach between formulators, equipment developers and regulators to fast-track these innovations.”

The full report outlines the potential of biologicals, the challenges for adoption and the market opportunities; download it here.