Earlier this year, the European Union agreed to a total ban on outdoor use of neonicitinoids – the world's most widely used group of pesticides.
The ban, expected to come into effect by the end of the year, follows growing evidence that, at least in Europe, these insecticides may be linked to declining populations of honeybees and other insects.
In New Zealand, our primary industries tend to use neonicitinoids quite differently from the way they are used in Europe. Here, they are mainly used as a seed coating, to protect germinating pasture from the likes of Argentine stem weevil, while in Europe they are largely used as sprays on crops such as oil seed rape.
Even so, the European ban is likely to affect our primary industries – and it is likely to be repeated in other parts of the world.
The ban follows the pattern of older, and more toxic, insecticides such as organophosphates and DDT. Scientists who work in bioprotection have seen this coming, and have warned about it, for some time.
But we have been doing more than just warning about it. Ever since the Bio-Protection Research Centre was established in 2003 we have been actively searching for biocontrol alternatives – or complements – to synthetic chemicals. It is the very reason we were established.
And we have already had some considerable successes, such as:
- the commercialisation of several biopesticides for use in kiwifruit and grapes.
- the development of enhanced ecosystem services management strategies for horticultural industries.
- management approaches to reducing potato diseases.
Much of the BPRC's work has contributed to successful research by our partner
organisations. For example, our work on Psa and forestry pests and disease has led directly to biologically based products being launched into the market to combat these enemies.
Biopesticides – natural pesticides made from micro-organisms or their products – are a major, and continuing, area of interest. We have joined with AgResearch and Plant & Food Research in a co-operative research programme to develop biopesticides for New Zealand's pastoral, horticultural, and arable sectors.
Called Next-Generation Biopesticides, this programme has already seen commercial success with the likes of KiwiVax, a biopesticide that helps to combat the vine disease Psa. Another biopesticide for Psa is close to launch, and the programme is also developing biopesticides for insect pests in pasture and brassica crops.
This work is developing organisms already found in New Zealand, to solve New Zealand problems, under New Zealand conditions.
There is no one answer to the problems that can occur with some synthetic pesticides, there is no silver bullet that will protect all our crops from every pest, and it's likely we will continue to need some synthetic chemical controls in some situations.
But the world is changing as producers and consumers alike seek more natural and environmentally sustainable methods of controlling pests. Scientists working with the Bio-Protection Research Centre are at the forefront of finding, and developing, those methods.
- Professor Glare is Director of the Bio-Protection Research Centre at Lincoln University.
About the Bio-Protection Research Centre
The Bio-Protection Research Centre is a Centre of Research Excellence funded by the New Zealand Government. It was established in 2003 to drive innovation in sustainable approaches to pest, pathogen and weed control.