Sourced from the May 22 issue of The Vine magazine
There’s something to be said about being “soft, but not weak”.
This well-known quote – attributed to many and none – has significant relevance when we think about control. There’s a big difference between being soft and weak, particularly in the case of chemical use.
Embracing “soft” can initiate a change in mindset, something required at this critical time in table grape production. Australian and international governments are strengthening chemical laws to prevent pollution and further protect the environment and consumers from exposure to chemical residues, and a spotlight has been shone on food safety standards. The result of this attention is fewer broad-spectrum chemicals available for growers to use to manage pest outbreaks.
The term “soft chemistry” is becoming a buzzword in the horticulture sector, but it also raises questions. The Australian Table Grape Association spoke to experts in the agrichemical industry to help understand what soft chemistry is, how it works and what the benefits are to industry.
What is “soft chemistry”?
Soft chemistry refers to targeted pest solutions that have little impact on the environment and merge well with growers’ integrated pest management (IPM) programs. “‘Soft chemistry’ generally refers to synthetic chemistry that is very targeted at a specific pest species, while having minimal impact on any beneficial species,” BASF horticulture portfolio manager Serge Usatov said. Biologically-based chemicals, including pheromones or active ingredients derived from bacteria, also come under a different category – sometimes called “biological solutions” – within the agrichemical industry. Corteva territory account manager Nick Weckert said products developed with soft chemistry attributes would target specific pests, but efficacy required commitment from the grower as well.
“(These products are) supported with regular crop monitoring to measure pest threshold numbers and the required beneficials,” Nick said.
Chemical industry embraces soft side
Stricter regulatory measures in international markets mean MRLs are constantly changing. Chemicals commonly used in table grape production have recently been affected, having MRLs removed, and registrations cancelled. Chemical companies are doing the hard yards to help develop products that meet MRLs, with minimal impact to the environment, consumer, and worker, according to Serge. “BASF actively invests in pioneering R&D for new products and solutions that allow flexibility to farmers’ operations and address the toughest pest and disease threats,” he said. “As part of this research, we develop chemistry that meet the ongoing demands of stricter regulatory criteria and MRLs of export destinations.
“It is reassuring (to growers) to know that companies such as BASF are investing in solutions that support farmers in doing their jobs and give consumers confidence that they are getting high quality produce.” ATGA project lead Alison MacGregor said growers and consumers equally are becoming increasingly aware about the importance of sustainability in food production, environmentally friendly practices, and greater traceability within the food supply chain, to which Nick agreed. “All stakeholders in the food chain are driving this focus to be more sustainable and ensure MRLs are met as required,” he said.
Soft chemistry – not just a benefit to consumers
Alison, Serge and Nick all agree that using soft chemistry doesn’t just benefit consumers.
“Consumers are not the only group to benefit from the development of newer chemistry,” Serge said. “Retailers, agronomists and especially farmers also benefit and have been eagerly embracing these new technologies. … We’ve received some fantastic feedback from growers who have implemented targeted sprays throughout the growing season to get great results from their production systems." “This targeted approach gets the job done properly and early before pest and disease gets out of control. This allows the farmer to achieve a highquality produce as well as being able to have the flexibility on farm to do the various jobs required. Growers can only do this when they have chemistry that is more targeted," Serge said. Nick said soft chemistry meant growers would generally spray fewer times, as “the products used give a longer protection period”. “Less applications means huge labour and fuel savings and less machinery wear and tear,” he said.
Alison agreed that early intervention with soft chemistry could lead to better overall pest and disease control, partly because beneficials can thrive and assist with pest control, and partly because early intervention will delay build-up of a problem, making it much easier to control.
Making the switch
How growers make the transition to use soft chemistry depends on several factors – but Nick said it’s not something that happens overnight. “We would suggest do a trial only on a block or two initially for year 1, before changing the management of a farm completely,” he said. “IPM is about more than just product selection. It requires regular crop monitoring for both pest and beneficials, a mindset-change to spray less but at the optimum time, and ensure good coverage to allow the chemistry to perform best. “Maintaining high levels of beneficials is paramount to the success of IPM so removing or at least reducing where possible the use of broad-spectrum chemistry will greatly assist growers hoping to transition.” Serge said it was important that “as the industry produces more targeted solutions farmers need to ensure the (spray) application is of a high standard, and the water volume, calibration and spray direction achieve a high level of canopy coverage to maximise results”. He also said that a shift in mindset would help understand the value of soft solutions.
“There is a false perception in the industry that newer, ‘soft’ solutions are ‘soft’ in efficacy results,” he said. “This is not the case.”
Orginal article: Chemical use Soft in nature, not on results - Issuu