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Key messages

  • Loss of conventional crop protection products remains a concern
  • Biologicals make up more than 50% of growers’ crop protection programmes
  • Growers willing to adapt practices to support biologicals in a programme

Protecting fruit crops against thrips and powdery mildew are the greatest concern of growers but finding a path to success that reflects the sustainability concerns of society and the residue limits of retailers, can be a challenge.

In a bid to gain a better understanding of the crop protection concerns of soft fruit growers, Bayer surveyed attitudes to learn what order producers rank these problems and what they are doing in

Many of the challenges identified were as might be expected with gaps in crop protection of particular concern. Across the board, thrips was the single biggest pest nuance with two-spotted spider mite next and aphids third. For diseases, powdery mildew and botrytis were the principal worry of growers while crown rot and Phytopthora cactorum were noted, but of lesser concern.

The problem is not identifying the threats to production but managing them to a level that protects yields and quality. The loss of several highly regarded crop protection products in recent years has magnified the problem and forced growers to investigate alternative means of protection sometimes with mixed success.

Crop protection is a field where user experience is the basis for future understanding and expectation of a product’s contribution to disease or pest control. Where a grower has a negative experience, it can erode trust in this technology and lead to poor industry adoption. Given the future role biological crop protection products will play, the survey produced some reassuring assessments of the available biologicals where they have been integrated into programmes. Growers understood why manufacturers were focused on biological crop protection agents but wanted more detailed guidance on how they could best optimise their performance.

“Biologicals could not be a more different approach to what growers are used to. Understanding how best to make the most of what they can contribute often means breaking with the practices of the past. This change in approach can seem radical and was not always effectively explained to users. Consequently, there are some growers whose experience of these products is not what it could be, and this has the potential to promote scepticism about the potential of newer products coming through the system,” says Claire Matthewman, Bayer campaign manager for horticulture.

While there will be some for whom the experience was less than hoped, the overwhelming reaction among those surveyed was positive and in many cases biological protection agents already make up half of the programme. Many growers expect this to increase.

Manufacturer efforts to explain how application practices need to change to support product expectations have also resonated with growers with many noting how they have changed tactics to support performance.

“Widespread use of beneficial predators such as parasitic wasps have undoubtedly helped to prepare the way for biological fungicides and insecticides. Many of the products coming through contain live bacteria or natural compounds and environmental conditions at the time of application are as important to these products as they are to beneficial insects. Growers accept this and are prepared to spray at a time of the day when conditions are suitable even if it can be anti-social,” says Ms Matthewman.

The survey revealed that growers are openminded about biological forms of crop protection and are willing to change their behaviour to ensure that they can get the best out of them. Soft fruit growers recognise that a more holistic approach is needed to protect their crops. They understand that to get the best out of biologicals they should be positioned as part of an IPM programme.

“Where growers have enjoyed success with biologicals it is based on a recognition of what makes them different. Efficacy levels are often ‘average’ compared with ‘high’ for a conventional while biologicals provide preventative protection in low to moderate pressure situations leaving conventional products to provide curative activity or act as a ‘pest re-set’. A key benefit of biologicals for soft fruit growers in particular is that they are often residue exempt meaning they can be used close to harvest,” says Ms Matthewman.

There were other considerations supporting interest in biological forms of crop protection, namely the issue of sustainability. This is often a guiding principle of any production system, but the short nature of supply chains in the fruit sector and that many producers enjoy a direct relationship with their audience mean they have deep-founded understanding of what the term means to their consumer base.

“It is impressive just how aware fruit growers are of the sustainability issue. Many have a detailed understanding of how it will impact their business ranging from the packaging they use, to the volume of water they apply and where it comes from, to the tightening requirements of residue limits. It is a truly professional sector and one that gives Bayer great confidence to continue investing its research and development resources in biologicals,” says Ms Matthewman.

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