The Atlantic Area is characterised by high rainfall and high humidity, conditions which increase crop fungal infection and leaching of inputs from soil (EEA, 2009). Crop growers counter these problems by applying high levels of synthetic fungicides and fertilizers. However, heavy rainfall can render these applications ineffective and leach these chemicals into waterways, resulting in increased emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide (N2O). The problem is compounded as many fungicides are toxic and face EU bans due to residue accumulation in food, which affects growers and retailer alike.
NASPA will develop a new generation of products based on bioactive compounds from seaweed/fish waste/aquatic plants combined with key plant micronutrients. These will either induce crops to produce protective (antimicrobial, anti-oxidant) substances against fungal pathogens which infect them or improve plant health making crops less prone to diseases via better nutrition and biostimulation.
Together, these have been shown to alter nitrogen cycling rate, reduce the need for nitrogen fertilisers, and associated leaching of nitrates into water streams, and of N2O emissions from agricultural soils.
The products will increase marketable yield and shelf-life, providing Return on Investment for crop growers and retailers. NASPA will provide increases in food production, exports, employment and competition, whilst meeting regulatory requirements regarding food residues and environmental run-off.
According to the UK Health and Safety Executive, "Biopesticides are plant protection products which contain biological control agents (microbials, pheromones, plant extracts etc) for use as agricultural, horticultural and home garden pesticides."
In his paper Biopesticides and the EU regulatory process, Lars Huber, said: "The regulatory approach in Europe, according to EU plant protection Regulation 1107/2009, does not recognise biopesticides as a regulatory category of plant protection active ingredients. In the lack of an unequivocal regulatory definition of biopesticides, many countries around the world use this term.
In many cases, they have to decide on a case-to-case basis if an ai falls under this category, for instance, if an ai is not a natural biochemical but only biochemical-like.
To avoid any confusion or discrimination with similar favourable characteristics ascribed to biopesticides a risk based approach was chosen in the EU under which, irrespective of the origin of an active ingredient, categories of basic substances and low risk substances were introduced. Nevertheless the term biopesticide is widely used also in the EU by all participants in the regulatory system."
According to the European Biostimulant Industry Council (EBIC) their plant biostimulant definition is:
"Plant biostimulants contain substance(s) and/or micro-organisms whose function when applied to plants or the rhizosphere is to stimulate natural processes to enhance/benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, and crop quality."
The identification of certain organic molecules able to activate plant metabolism has been shown to improve crop performance in a short period of time and at lower cost.
Biostimulants are produced through extracts from organic sources. The development and use of biostimulants is still in its infancy: The extracts available from a huge range of organic sources will each contain a wide range of bioactive compounds that are mostly still unknown. Compounds identified can be formulated into stable products that are able to improve the nutrient use efficiency of the plant and enhance tolerance to abiotic stresses.
In vegetables, the application of biostimulants allows a reduction in fertilisers while potentially increasing yield and quality.
In leafy vegetables susceptible to nitrate accumulation, such as rocket, biostimulants have been able to improve the quality and keep the nitrates under the limits imposed by EU regulations. Moreover in leafy vegetables, biostimulants increased leaf pigments (chlorophyll and carotenoids) and plant growth by stimulating root growth and enhancing the antioxidant potential of plants.
In floriculture, biostimulants used in bedding plant production stimulated the growth of plants, which reached the blooming and commercial stages earlier, thus optimizing space in the greenhouse.
The Consortium of Research and Commercial partners will be developing and trialling candidate compounds and combinations through rapid screening techniques before putting these through glasshouse and field trials with a view to producing fully tested products.
Importantly it has been shown from previous work that crop specific biostimulant regimes work synergistically with crop nutrition - where this has been balanced to meet both crop need and overcome genuine nutrient availability imbalances. Unfortunately, standard soil analysis has been shown to be poorly matched to actual plant nutrient availability or bioactive uptake. This creates a major impediment with respect to crop improvement.
The consortium will develop a new generation of products based on bioactive compounds recovered from algal sources, fish waste and aquatic plants combined with key nutrients formulated for maximum uptake and minimal phytotoxicity. Furthermore, the consortium will then create crop specific packages aimed at delivering significantly reduced crop stress reactions, improved resistance to pathogens, improved crop performance and reduced fertiliser demand.
Commercial innovation arises via the capacity to develop a new market sector; fresh produce with consistently enhanced nutritional quality, achieved in an environmentally responsible way using natural and renewable products.