As I walked through the booths at the California Association of Pest Control Adviser’s expo in Reno, Nev., recently, the dearth of new crop protection active ingredients hit me.
I’m not talking about new products but actual new chemistries. Sure, there are new products, but nearly all are just different formulations or premixes of existing a.i.’s.
It seemed like when I first started covering agriculture—more years ago than I care to admit—nearly all of the major manufacturers would each have at least one new a.i. registration annually.
Some would have even more.
Fast forward several years, and today’s specialty crop industry is lucky to have one new a.i. registration among all of the manufacturers collectively each year.
This trend reinforces the need for strong resistance-management programs. In the past, resistance wasn’t as much of a concern because growers could count on a new product registration just as problems were mounting.
Now resistance appears to be outpacing registrations.
Resistance occurs because even the most effective product doesn’t kill 100 percent of the target pest, and a few survive. If growers continue to use the same mode of action, it will continue to select for the less-sensitive individuals. Pretty soon, resistant pests far outnumber the sensitive ones, and the product loses its effectiveness.
A pesticide label, for example, may call for only two consecutive applications before rotating to a product with a different mode of action. A few growers may figure that only one or two more treatments with the same product won’t hurt.
Depending on the target pest and the pesticide, resistance can become apparent in as little as one season. And depending on the pest, it may take several years for that resistance to decrease to the point where the product regains its effectiveness.
With so few products registered against certain pests, even the loss of one product may pose significant challenges to the specialty crop industry.
Why so few new products? When you talk to the manufacturers, they say that all of the so-called low-hanging fruit has already been picked. To find a new active ingredient takes a lot more time, research and money than it used to.
Environmental Protection Agency registration criteria also have gotten tougher, so a product that may have been approved decades ago wouldn’t make it through the first round of reviews in today’s environment.
On the average, it takes 8 to 12 years and about $250 million to bring a new active ingredient to market.
With a price tag like that, the crop protection materials we currently have are an investment worth protecting with a strong resistance-management program.