For the person requesting information regarding fungal bioherbicides:
I don't have much on natural products like the corn gluten thing. But on
fungi, I have tons- I've been trying to develop endemic fungal biocontrol
agents for weeds since '82. But before I post practical information, I
would like people to consider where we are. Unfortunately, there are several
very major obstacles in the the path of biopesticide development (or the
marketing of other natural weed control products, for that matter).
1. Industry is not cooperating. The reasons are numerous, relating to the
size of niche weed control markets. Ironically, the specific nature of
many bioherbicides also limits their market size. It's a bit like the orphan
drug scenario- we have a cure, but no one wants to bother selling it.
Industry is needed because they are really the only ones who can stand a
chance of defending the products, and they are the ones with expertise in
mass-producing inoculum. Unfortunately, some quarters may actually view
a successful bioherbicide as a threat to the future viability of chemical
product sales. I have no proof to substantiate that- just strong suspicions,
mostly based on the fact that bioherbicides are more difficult for industry to
deal with in terms of technical support, etc.
2. Related to this is the start-up cost in relation to risk. It may cost
millions of dollars to register a bioherbicide, and millions more to defend it
in court if someone gets their hackles up. Something that small firms are
reluctant to deal with. By not completely spelling out registration
requirements, the U.S. has done much to hinder what industry views as a
capricious and risk-riddled process.
3. Environmentalists are dropping the ball. Resistance to the use of
biopesticides is stiffening in some quarters. Some view them as encouraging
more of the same old mass-efficiency approach. Some have microbe-related
hysteria or a natural mistrust of any technology, be it high or low tech.
There is significant public pressure for alternatives, but this has not been
sustained loudly and long enough to translate into alternatives for the market.
I think BT is a good product, but its overuse in some quarters has probably
contributed to the problem.
4. Insufficient resources have been devoted to the task. BT took over 1
scientist century to develop- most projects are lucky if they are budgeted 20
scientist years. Ironically, the success of BT is working against us. Part of
the problem is that many things had to be fiddled- such as inclusion of BT
toxins in the formulation. The current joke in biocontrol circles is that if
BT had to be registered today, it would never get through because of the
current hysteria surrounding naturally-occuring toxins.
5. Bioherbicide is an oxymoron- they do not work like chemicals. Do not
expect to see clean fields. BT only averages about 60% effectiveness, by the
way. There will be resistance to all of the other I.P.M. measures that will
have to go hand-in-hand with using weed biocontrol agents. A book in and of
6. The success and full economic impact of classical biocontrol work has gone
largely unheralded in North America. Ask a North American to support
biocontrol research, and they'll ask what the heck it is. Ask an Australian,
and chances are they'll be able to tell you which crop industry (wheat farmers,
etc.) supports the work.
What can be done?
A. Lobby effectively for biocontrol research, classical or other, on the weeds
that cause the most economic distress
B. Conduct your own biocontrol research. As far as I know, there is currently
nothing preventing a private land owner from applying fungi on their own
property (but you may need to check this!). A trip to the microbiology section
of the library will give you most of the tools you need. If you are doubtful,
consider this: Canadian scientists are teaching small-scale farmers in the
Phillipenes how to seek out fungi on their weeds, culture them in crude media,
and reapply them. What are we waiting for? A college degree?
Richard S. Winder
Forest Weed Biocontrol
Canadian Forest Service/Ministry of Natural Resources
Pacific & Yukon Region
Pacific Forestry Centre
506 West Burnside Road
Victoria, B.C. V8Z 1M5 CANADA
Phone (604) 363 0773 Fax 363 0775