Next Gen: Accelerating the adoption of biologicals in agriculture
Developing the right formulation solutions
Under increasing pressure from regulators, pest resistance issues and the urgency of heightened sustainability, the agricultural world is busy adding to its arsenal a new generation of crop protection products based on biologicals. These biocontrol products use naturally-occurring actives such as micro-organisms and plant extracts that complement conventional crop protection solutions. What’s more, biological products provide a multifaceted mode of action, not only providing pest and disease control but also nutrition and stimulation. As a result, they help fight pest resistance and boost yields while lowering agriculture’s impact on the environment.
What complicates matters is that formulating biological crop protection products comes with new challenges (shorter shelf life, diminished resistance to external factors…). Solvay, armed with a strong will to support the agricultural sector on its path towards increased sustainability, is using its extensive formulation know-how to solve those difficulties and ultimately boost the adoption of biopesticides.
Biological pesticides can be adopted faster
We have been developing formulation solutions for plant protection products (additives such as emulsifiers and dispersants) for 40 years. One might easily overlook the importance of these ingredients that are not the pest-fighting actives themselves, but using the right co-formulants can have a huge impact on the efficacy of those actives, and on overall agronomic performance.
Therefore, if we are to support farmers with more options in managing pests and diseases - and biologicals help them to meet this need - the question of formulation is fundamental. “We believe working on improving formulations is a way to bridge the gap in terms of efficacy and accelerate the adoption of biological actives,” says Anaïs Marquilly, Marketing Manager for the Agro Business at Solvay’s Novecare business unit. In other words, if biocontrol products are smartly formulated to reach optimal efficacy, their chances to be broadly adopted will be that much higher - in addition, these formulations are compatible with organic farming.
We believe working on improving formulations is a way to bridge the gap and accelerate the adoption of biological actives.
A new range of biological-compatible formulation solutions
In order to support this transition towards more sustainable crop protection, Solvay’s teams had their work cut out for them. “We went through our existing portfolio to determine what products were compatible with biological actives, and are now offering a broad range of inerts wetting, emulsifying, dispersing agents and adjuvants for various formulations and applications,” explains Anaïs. “Then we went a step further and identified a series of specific unmet needs, and developed solutions that could solve those challenges.” The result was the launch in 2022 of AgRHEA™, a new range of formulation solutions specifically designed for biological crop protection formulations.
The first two solutions developed were AgRHEA™ OD-EASY and AgRHEA™ Sticguard: each tackles a specific challenge that comes with biological crop protection products.
One of the challenges identified by Solvay’s teams was shelf life - a crucial issue for microbial actives such as fungi: being living organisms, their storage stability is limited. Formulating products in oil instead of water (through liquid oil dispersion) prevents the premature germination of the fungal spores, and therefore enables longer shelf life. It also has proven benefits for biological efficacy enhancement
But despite these advantages, preparations based on oils remain complex and require additives such as emulsifiers, rheology modifiers and dispersants that often have detrimental effects on spore viability. To remediate these issues, we developed AgRHEA™ OD-EASY, an all-in-one oil dispersion basis solution that makes these challenging formulations easier, and the first in a series of upcoming Solvay solutions targeting shelf life improvement for biopesticides.
As for AgRHEA™ Sticguard, it addresses the issue of rainfastness. This adjuvant ensures that biological actives, that are even more sensitive to rain than synthetics, have better resistance to rain once they have been applied on the crops, thanks to a film-forming natural polymer that also helps to foster the ideal environment to boost the microorganism’s growth and desired action on the plant.
Making a real difference for biologicals
To support and accelerate the adoption of these new products and the formulation solutions that enable their use, Solvay is working both with its long-standing customers in the industry and with new players such as companies specialized in biotech, putting our know-how at their service in the field of formulation, but also physical chemistry, microbiology, etc.
This segment is a strategic ambition for the Group and its Research & Innovation teams. “These formulation solutions can make a real difference for the adoption of biological products,” believes Anaïs. “We’re now working on future developments such as other breakthrough shelf life enhancement solutions and coatings that improve the survival of microorganisms on the seed. There will be new product releases in the AgRHEA™ portfolio in the near future.”