Recent focus has been on reducing risks and use of pesticides In dealing with technology development and integrated pest management (IPM), Scott Hutchins says four areas need to be considered: foundational principles and assumptions; IPM from a customer perspective; IPM technology and the private sector; and policies that will enable IPM adoption.
Recently, regulatory priorities (from EPA, among others) and chemical companies' responses have reflected an emphasis on both reduced risk and reduced use of pesticides, says Hutchins, Dow Agrosciences' global leader for product development processes. The carrot and stick that the EPA carries is the ability to use "priority settings" for farm chemicals and other technologies.
Hutchins, who spoke at the Nov. 14 Mississippi Entomological Association annual meeting in Starkville, says product development is becoming increasingly difficult for companies. To wit: the registration process is not only difficult but costly; research and development budgets are generally fixed as a percent of revenues; and the impact on IPM is reduced capability for discovery of new and progressive technologies.
Despite this, however, there are new products available (e.g., Fipronil) which, coupled with new formulations of older synthetic products, new classes of curative control products (e.g., Spinosad) and transgenic technologies, are giving farmers new choices.
Also making waves is precision agriculture. "Precision ag is the single largest innovation in ag productivity. Site-specific management of nearly all input/output considerations could be considered high-tech IPM."
In picking control plans, farmers rely on the use of an objective value-based decision, says Hutchins. "Control decisions are based on maintaining pest populations below economic-injury levels."
A total management strategy calls for the interactive use of multiple management tactics. These tactics are as diverse as utilizing natural enemies, host plant resistance and insecticides. All are "objectively considered" for use within a total management strategy.
The potential by-products of IPM implementation may mean fewer pest management inputs - or it may mean more pest management inputs.
In regards to customer adoptions principles, Hutchins says added value is the concept of IPM, but can only be defined by the end user. "Growers have different business and personal goals. Risk avoidance is a legitimate goal that has to be factored into the decision framework."
Further, Hutchins says IPM is input-independent and only value should drive decisions. "Input analysis should be objective, and business and personal goals must be taken into consideration."
Value, if truly evident, will be exploited as a business enterprise. The private sector must see the value to the marketing of IPM principles, says Hutchins.
"Regulatory emphasis should be on real risks with specific tactics. IPM is driven by economic and biologic knowledge to `optimize' control strategies - regulatory provides the `constraints' on tactical options."
To meet the customers' bottom line, Hutchins says, IPM must "show added value as measurable net improvement in level of pest control, speed of pest control, length of pest control or certainty of pest control per unit of cost. IPM must also be consistent with the business an/or personal values of the user."
The chemical industry is consolidating. By 2001, Hutchins says, global players in pest management technology will be comprised of five or six megacompanies. Alongside that is the fact that in 2000, some 80 percent of all current active ingredients for pesticides have come off patent - hello, generics.
"Generics add value to growers in a break-even analysis and increase the use of pest control tactics as insurance. If you lower the premium, increase the coverage. Generics will also drive proprietary brands to reduce their level of technical support."
The megacompanies must have a presence in both biological pest control and chemical pest control to retain their market and portfolio influence, says Hutchins.
And there is the importance of what Hutchins terms "critical mass." The discovery "hit" rates for natural or synthetic pesticides are diminishing (now standing at about 1 in 100,000). This is pushing industry toward high throughput and combinatorial approaches, says Hutchins.
"Discovery of novel transgenic proteins - beyond Bt - is nearly non-existent. Breadth, not depth, is the desired portfolio attribute."
As a result, all companies involved in research and development are looking for value-adding attributes.
Only one such attribute is efficacy. "Performance-based technology discoveries are near a plateau state, shifting emphasis to non-performance attributes. New mode of action, for example, is important in many segments where effective products already exist."
The second attribute companies want is safety - for humans and the environment. "Reduced risk status is a key criterion for new discoveries. While growers generally don't rank this attribute high in their purchase decision, market pressure and the potential for higher prices strengthen the appeal."
The third attribute is spectrum of activity. "Preservation of natural enemies is an important purchase criterion."
The fourth attribute is price. "This is absolutely key in a situation where multiple alternatives exist. It must be consistent with the price-taker economic status of most agricultural commodity producers."
Speaking on biotechnology, Hutchins says transgenic crops will substitute for conventional where preventive tactics are justified - but only for primary pests. As many farmers have discovered, transgenic crops simplify decision-making. However, no one should view transgenic crops as a silver bullet, says Hutchins.
"We're currently in a period of confusion. The industry needs higher prices for research and development, but generics are reducing revenues. The industry is meeting very high regulatory standards, but regulatory approval time is slower than ever. The emphasis for IPM is species-specific properties, but global financial hurdle rates require broad spectrum activity. Non-efficacy attributes are welcomed and encouraged by the market, but farmers are reluctant to pay for progressive attributes and generics reduce adoption of them."
To enable IPM adoption and success the first thing that needs to happen is elimination of the identity crisis for IPM, says Hutchins. A standard characterization needs to be established. Key points in doing so:
- Agree on a set of defining attributes and aggressively endorse these as a focus for all IPM-related activities.
- Provide the national/international leadership necessary to standardize the case and rationale for IPM in objective farmer-oriented terms.
- Focus on IPM as an issue of productivity, not product registration or reduced-use dogma.
"We also need to utilize the economic-injury level as the basis for guiding the need for research. We need to focus on defining biologic injury and describing host response (damage) to injury. We need to eliminate research that is only loosely tied to actual decision-making capabilities and tighten and streamline the focus of IPM research to yield an achievable result."
There is also the need to prepare for the "imminent" IPM service industry, says Hutchins. The development of private-sector IPM practitioners should be supported and encouraged at the bridge between theory and practice.
"Prescription pest management and certification of decision-making ability is a legitimate option - prescription use of pesticides isn't. Practitioners will not only strengthen IPM decision objectives but also strengthen regulatory compliance. We should also endorse the use of professional pest management advisors as an integral part of the farming enterprise."
We should also support progressive product discovery and development, says Hutchins. This can be done by minimizing the negative product stewardship impact that generics will bring to a mature market.
"We need to require that all registrants provide some form of technical support. We need to consider the impact that generics will have on volume and seek methods to reduce an irrational insurance mentality."