Tech Tuesday

New Approach to Stop Long-Time Pests

Companies are looking at bio-based controls to their crop protection arsenal.

You'll be hearing more about a new seed treatment product for season 2011 from Bayer CropScience called Votivo as the summer progresses. This product, paired with Poncho insecticide, offers a new way to stop nematodes from cutting yields on your crop - it's a kind of bacteria that keeps nematodes away.

Perhaps the bigger news is that this is a bio-control product, not biotech, but bio control. It's the use of a targeted organism to keep another pest or problem away and these kinds of tools will become another weapon in your pest control arsenal in the next decade. For Bayer, which acquired the technology from another firm, Votivo offers another way to stop a pest that's getting more attention.

The first crop for Votivo is corn, and there's rising concern about corn nematodes; however, the product will eventually be labeled for soybeans, cotton and other crops where nematodes are a problem - from soybean cyst nematode to root knot nematodes to reniform nematodes. It appears this bio-control has activity across the board.

Bio-based controls offer new ways to tackle long-time pests, just consider the Bacillus, or other bio-product as another kind of active ingredient. There have been a range of purchases by major crop protection companies of smaller labs and research facilities that have this kind of technology. Bayer's Votivo is another choice coming to market. The market and university tests will decide whether this approach to nematodes, or others available will succeed. Here we'll talk a little about how this system works.

Jennifer Riggs, product development manager, seed treatment, Bayer CropScience, explains that the product has a long life in the soil - as long as the crop roots are viable - which helps protect from nematodes. "Roots produce material that the nematode can sense," she says. When the bacteria in Votivo start multiplying with the root, it produces a unique "smell" for lack of a better word that keeps the nematode from finding the crop root.

Essentially, the crop root produces exudates the bacteria feeds on - interestingly enough that same exudates attract nematodes. When they can't sense the exudates they don't find the roots. Votivo doesn't kill the nematode, but in a way it does reduce populations because they can't feed on your crop. "We were just ready with our research for corn nematodes first," Riggs says. "We'll be labeling the product in other crops. We'll be ready for soybeans later this year and cotton in 2011."

Interesting that this product isn't killing bugs, just impacting their life-cycle in ways to boost crop yields. You're going to see more of that kind of technology in the future as researchers better understand the secret life of plants and use that information against pests.

As a bio-product, farmers have questions about it's efficacy and lifespan. Riggs explains the product is viable on the seed as long as the seed is viable. "We put the spore on the seed as part of the treatment," she says. "A single seed will have as many as 1 million spores on it." And once the crop is harvested and the root matter dies, the bacteria dies too leaving little in the way of residue.

It's an interesting way to stop a pest. Check out field plots this summer if you get a chance to learn more. Bayer is working with a range of seed partners to make the product available, and there will be several corn test plots on hand. Learn more about this technology at PonchoVotivo.us.

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