Sustainable Ag 1 | MBIBy Dr. Pamela Marrone, Founder & CEO, Marrone Bio Innovations

The world population is soaring and consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment, their health, food safety, and protecting water supplies. Now, more than ever, our world needs effective, environmentally smart agricultural technologies that are safe for people and protect our natural resources.

From fruits, vegetables, corn and rice to wine grapes and cannabis, a new wave of environmentally responsible biopesticides are changing the way farmers grow the food consumers buy.

Biopesticides are more than a trend. They are revolutionizing farming practices around the world, improving productivity for organic crops, making conventional harvests safer, reducing the environmental impact of agriculture and ensuring that consumers are not ingesting chemicals on their food.

Biopesticides are derived from natural substances and micro-organisms such as bacteria and plant extracts. But just because a product is natural does not mean it is certified as organic or classified as a biopesticide. The rules are strict. Safety to mammals, fish, birds, pollinators and other organisms must be proven as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s registration process.
At Marrone Bio Innovations (MBI), each batch of biopesticides produced has a specific level of pesticidal compounds to make the products consistent and high performing. Just like penicillin comes from a mold, and aspirin originally came from willow bark, ultimately, the root of every biopesticide comes from nature.

As the market for organic foods continues to expand and conventional farms seek to reduce toxic chemicals, MBI’s scientists are building a lineup of biopesticides that work for all growers to benefit more consumers.

Advances are made in the lab, but inspiration comes from nature. For example, a new biofumigant recently developed by MBI is derived from a fungus discovered originally from under the bark of a cinnamon tree in a rainforest. The fungus produces gas to stop root disease. Another new bacteria launched by MBI controls invasive fruit flies. We discovered another one from soil near a Buddhist temple! MBI has delivered seven new products to the market in the past 11 years – an unprecedented rate of innovation.

Consumers across all demographics are driving the growth of sustainable food production. Sustainable farming starts with a healthy soil, which results in a healthy plant. The healthy soil concept is now being trumpeted everywhere and being adopted by conventional farmers. Biopesticides play a critical role in ensuring optimal soil health as the foundation for sustainable agriculture and food and production.
In addition to food, the commercial cannabis market is proving to be especially interested in biopesticide solutions. In California, which last year approved a voter initiative to allow retail cannabis sales to adults, an estimated 50,000 independent farmers grow marijuana for market. Biopestcides are transforming cannabis production through the reduction of toxic chemicals and pesticide residues that are harmful to both the environment and to people.

With consumers willing to pay premium prices for organic products, many organic farmers have struggled to keep pace with demand. Part of the dilemma faced by organic growers are restrictions against conventional pesticides for weed control. Biopesticides in the future can help solve the weed problem, leading to improved economies of scale, with higher productivity and lower prices for consumers. MBI’s R&D group is working hard on developing a line of new bioherbicides for both conventional and organic farmers.

In addition, crop production enabled by biopesticides is safer for farmworkers and friendlier for the land, pollinators and the environment, very often delivering higher income to farmers – higher yields and quality when biopesticides are incorporated into farmers’ programs.
Conventional farmers also find benefits from the innovations in biopesticides, especially around harvest time and they are increasingly adopting biopesticides to eliminate synthetic chemical residues on the crops they grow. Farmers can spray biopesticides right up to harvest and then export without any residue issues. Residues are highly regulated and even stricter outside the U.S.

One group that doesn’t benefit from biopesticides is pests. While traditional chemical pesticides often lose their efficiency as pests build up resistance, biopesticides have managed to thwart the natural ability of insects to adapt and develop resistance, leading to healthier crops, better food, wine and cannabis products for consumers and a cleaner environment.

Biopesticides are playing an increasingly critical role in helping all of the key drivers of sustainable, environmentally responsible food production. World population is expected to reach more than 8 billion by 2030 and 10 billion by 2050. Feeding this growing population on virtually the same arable acreage will require yield increases and enhanced crop quality. Agricultural technologies such as biopesticides are a key ingredient for sustainable farming and feeding a growing and hungry world.

Dr. Pamela Marrone, CEO and founder of Marrone Bio Innovations, started the company in 2006 to discover and develop effective and environmentally responsible, biologically-based products for pest management and plant health.