Living Shields

Features - Lawn Care

Biopesticides may have gotten a bad rap in the past, but scientists are actively researching better materials that could change your mind.

March 5, 2013
Lawn & Landscape

Biopesticides are not the new kids on the block – they’ve been around for a while, especially in the agriculture industry. However, turf management has also seen its fair share of biopesticides, albeit with a bit of a negative connotation.

Traditionally, biopesticides have been met with skepticism; lawn care professionals tend to think they don’t work as well as other types of pesticides.

Some of this stems from the fact that biopesticides are relatively specific to just a few disease organisms, rather than being broad-spectrum solutions. It is imperative that the operator know exactly which disease they are dealing with to avoid misapplication and ineffective treatment.

According to Richard Rees, senior principal scientist at Bayer Environmental Science, people are generally distrustful of biopesticides because in the past, they’ve been presented by some companies that are relatively small. The companies have relatively small research and development facilities that are unable to go into the complex science that’s required to establish how the materials work, and then to prove them to work to the expectations of users, he says.

But the R&D at larger organizations has been ramping up in recent years, enabling companies to test and bring new products to the lawn and landscape business more effectively, he says. And the potential for even more – and even more effective – materials for LCOs is in the works.

“We’re offering in the future not an alternative (to traditional pesticides), but we will offer sound solutions, which when integrated in an overall best management practices system adopted by those who care for lawn and landscapes, these will provide very effective tools,” Rees says.

Beneficial bugs. But why the push for biopesticides? Many argue that they are safer than chemical treatments, or that their customers perceive them as being safer. Some say they are better for the environment.

While these may be reasons to choose biopesticides, Dr. Doug Houseworth, research and development director at Arysta LifeScience turf and ornamental products, gives a practical reason.

“They have been given favorable reviews by the EPA, so it means two things,” he says. “You can get them registered quicker, and with less extensive data than you might otherwise for a completely synthetic chemical.”

In addition, there are disease control options that go beyond prevention and cure to actually improve the health of plants.

“These products provide a whole range of aspects outside of just controlling pests,” Rees says. “They actually interact with the soil and with the plant, and as a result of that, provide a much better protection for the plant against the general abiotic stresses that plants experience.”

With the advancement in research, there may even be advantages in terms of nutrition in the future, Rees says. These types of materials can aid in the solublization of phosphates, which is one of the components of fertilizers that comes under scrutiny from regulatory authorities. Phosphates that are locked up in the soil may be released and used effectively by the plants in the future by using certain organisms, he says.

“There are many, many interactions which have to be studied in more detail which will generally provide a better growing environment for all lawn and landscape plants,” Rees says.

For now, biopesticides are effective against several types of diseases. Look for active ingredient polyoxin D, a naturally-produced fungicide that fights anthracnose, fairy ring and rhizoctonia. Active ingredient Bacillus firmus protects turf roots from nematodes while promoting the plant’s natural defenses. If you have an insect problem, consider Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is effective on both turf and ornamentals.

Get educated. When considering increasing your biopesticide options, it’s important to train your team in the proper application techniques and general knowledge of the products. It may take more frequent applications, and in general, biopesticides work much, much better as protectants than they do as rescue treatments, Houseworth says.

“The lawn care professional needs to have a higher level of skill, expertise and understanding that in many cases the timing, the application rate, and the application interval is critical to their success, more so than regular synthetic fungicides,” he says.

Also, keep an eye out for new developments and advancements in the area of biopesticides. With companies increasing their R&D efforts in this area, the potential for highly effective new products for LCOs in the next five years is high.

“We’re looking at research to potentiate the activity – to make them more active, so that they’re more broad-spectrum and last longer when they’re applied,” Houseworth says. The line between a synthetic chemical chemistry or a natural product is becoming grayer all the time, leading to a higher number of mixtures of natural products, biopesticides and traditional pesticides, he says. “So in effect, you’re not eliminating the synthetic chemical, but you are decreasing the amount of use of it. I see that becoming very common in the future.”