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A New Green Revolution in Agriculture

By Claude Rene Flueckiger

Biological products will revolutionize agriculture by replacing chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides in the $240 billion crop protection and fertilizer market. Biologicals include biopesticides, biofertilizers, and biostimulants derived from natural materials, such as animals, plants, bacteria or minerals. Biologicals have a revolutionary impact because, unlike chemical fertilizers and pesticides, biologicals function in synergy with nature and utilize the tremendous power of nature to support the resilience of agricultural crops in a sustainable manner.

Through the industrialization and intensification of agriculture, soils have disintegrated globally. Adverse land-management practices (e.g., intensive soil tilling) and use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has reduced both the number and diversity of beneficials in the environment and the overall health of the microbiome. The microbiome is comprised of bacteria and fungi that live in association with plants and provide natural services, such as protection against pests and diseases. 

The widespread adoption of biological products will begin with the increased use of biopesticides as an alternative to chemical pesticides. Reductions in chemical pesticide use will contribute to a reinvigoration of the microbiome and other beneficials. A healthy microbiome will facilitate a paradigm shift from the classical biocontrol of one pest on a given crop with one biopesticide to a biocontrol system that integrates the role of resident microbial communities to control pests. Overall, managing the composition of the soil microbiome as a whole will lead to better solutions for controlling plant disease outbreaks.

Biopesticides have many advantages over chemical pesticides. For farmers, biopesticides are attractive because they facilitate integrated pest management (IPM); protect beneficial organisms, including pollinators; are an important tool for resistance management; offer labour and harvest flexibility advantages; have very low toxicity; and, can be used on organic crops. For consumers, biopesticides reduce the risk of residue issues, satisfy the public demand for a more favourable ecological footprint, and reduce the use of more toxic chemical pesticides.
For the agriculture industry, the introduction of biopesticides provides the industry with a potential pipeline of products to replace existing chemical crop-protection products that are no longer competitive due either to resistance issues or because of patent expiry, which allows generic companies to copy and sell the product at a reduced price. 

The market for biopesticides is booming. According to two different studies, the biopesticides market is estimated to be worth $3.1 billion in 2018 and almost $10 billion in 2025. Assumptions for future growth rates vary between 10 per cent and 20 per cent. This market is projected to be larger than the market for chemicals, but the timeframe for this growth could be quite short or up to 25 years. 

More broadly, biologicals have the potential to not only replace chemical pesticides with biopesticides (a market of more than $50 billion), but, in combination with the broader “Omics” innovations, biologicals will also be able to complement or replace agricultural chemical fertilizers, alleviate abiotic stress (e.g., frost, water and heat from climate change), and increase crop yields. Biologicals will therefore compete in the $240 billion market for traditional pesticides, fertilizers and beyond. 

Leveraging the power of nature is at the heart of the opportunity for biologicals. Nature exercises tremendous power in sustaining the well-being of plants and agricultural crops. Protecting and utilizing the power of nature’s beneficials will create a foundation for the further development of biologicals reliant on a healthy microbiome. These changes will in turn compound the effectiveness of biologicals and trigger an agricultural revolution built on the sustainable use of natural processes to support crop resilience.

Stakeholders at every level will benefit from the widespread adoption of biologicals: Consumers will be assured that their food is grown safely and sustainably; farmers will have new tools for IPM and a new income stream from their sustainable services, such as carbon capture and the industry will enjoy a new and much larger market. This will guarantee a sustainable pipeline of future biological products, thus more than replacing revenues lost due to declining chemical usage.