Chemical fertilizer and insecticide have helped farms meet the growing demand for food worldwide, but not without negative consequences. Some insecticides escape into the air and cause illness. Often, they leach into groundwater, contaminating drinking water. Despite these negative impacts, the global crop protection chemicals market size is projected to reach $81.74 billion by 2028, up from $57.13 billion in 2020. For many farmers, it is what works and many have the mistaken assumption that synthetic chemicals are a cheaper alternative.

Maybe not.

Biologic crop protection is filling more of the public conscience as pesticide resistance continues to lead to ruined or reduced yield. And the call for healthier farming methods grows louder. With the world demanding a greater food supply and a cleaner environment, biologics are evolving in new and exciting ways in an effort to protect crops worldwide. They may not only improve the environment and food supply but prove cost-effective, too.

Crop protection without chemicals

A chemical-free way to farm, biologic farming can duplicate and even surpass the results of synthetic chemical efforts to create crops free of disease and pests. Without changing crop protection measures, chemicals and, for that matter, biologic solutions can lose their effectiveness over time. Meanwhile, consumers are demanding sustainability and increased transparency in food production, while countries continue to restrict or ban harmful chemicals used in the past. 

Even with this shift, farmers continue to lose billions of dollars to disease and pest resistance because of synthetic chemical use and stagnant ways of farming. The market and need are huge, and there are various ways to create multiple improvements in the process without chemicals, benefiting farmers and consumers alike.

Crop protection leveraging extracts, peptides and more

For example, Harpe uses plant extracts to help crops resist pests and a broad spectrum of weeds while also improving soil quality. Vestaron uses peptides to create healthier, resistance-free crops. Consumers might be familiar with how bioactive peptides, which are portions of proteins with amino acids, work in the human body to improve health. This shows similar promise in crop protection.

While Vestaron uses peptides to aid sustainable farming, Plastomics uses biotechnology to create higher-yielding seeds that target the chloroplast of plant cells, rather than the nucleus, which is more common. And 5Metis is using technology to identify other chemical-free solutions for crop protection. Using the technology platforms of two agricultural tech companies, Boragen and AgriMetis, 5Metis combines boron-based small molecule discovery and synthetic biology in the search for sustainable solutions.

Not all next-generation crop protection products involve the use of biologics. Because the eventual elimination of chemicals in farming will happen more slowly in some regions of the world than others, some companies are working to limit the damage chemicals can cause. MagGrow, for example, offers customers a new spraying system that gives better coverage than conventional crop spraying systems and also reduces spray drift up to 70%.

InsightTRAC has created a robotic pest removal mini-tank that locates and kills worms that damage almond and navel orange crops. This device seeks and destroys the pests and uses machine learning and onboard sight-tracking technology to shoot down the pests, rather than shaking the trees, with biodegradable pellets and removes them. It also learns about your yield, giving potential yield savings per acre and other statistics.

These are just some of the companies helping to grow food and manage farmland in a more sustainable way, and we expect more companies to enter this market in the near term. Crop protection will continue to improve, but there are advantages for everyone involved to adopt sustainable practices now. By reducing and eventually eliminating synthetic chemicals in agriculture and adopting other sustainable practices, we can drink cleaner water, reduce pollution-causing runoff, sequester more carbon in the soil and breathe cleaner air.

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