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Biological pesticide release delayed by bee testing

By John O’Connell Capital Press
A new biological pesticide holds promise for protecting a variety of crops from fungi, bacteria and viruses. The release of the product, BmJ, has been delayed at least a year by new EPA testing requirements to protect bees from colony collapse.

ABERDEEN, Idaho — The release of a biological protectant with efficacy against a host of pathogens and even potato virus Y has been delayed at least a year by new EPA requirements to evaluate effects of pesticides on beehives.

The manufacturer, Certis USA, had hoped to have Bacillus mycoides isolate J released by now, said Scott Ockey, the company’s western U.S. field development manager. Ockey said Certis remains optimistic about a release in late 2014 or early 2015, which will give him time for additional trials evaluating BmJ on other diseases and crops.

“There’s been a lot of sensitivity with pesticides and this (bee) colony collapse disorder,” Ockey said. “We are on the leading edge of the new EPA guidelines that are requiring more testing of pesticides.”

BmJ, a naturally occurring and nonpathogenic bacterium shown to trigger a plant’s immune responses to fungi, bacteria and viruses, was discovered by Montana State University researchers on sugar beet leaves.

“Molecularly, when you spray it on, a cascade of chemicals are produced by the plant,” Ockey said.

Ockey said BmJ has been tested throughout the country on crops including potatoes, spinach, lettuce, beans, sugar beets, grapes, apples and pears.

“We have efficacy on a good portion of the fungi and bacteria, so it should translate to most crops,” Ockey said.

The product is in its third year of trials at the UI Aberdeen Research & Extension Center, with federal specialty crop block grant funding awarded through the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and grant writing and project oversight by the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides.

Jennifer Miller, a sustainable agriculture associate with the center, explained BmJ will be affordably priced and offers a novel mode of action to stave off resistance to existing pesticides when it’s incorporated into programs.

“We’re interested in alternative practices that can reduce the use of synthetic fungicides. Growers are interested in reducing costs, so BmJ can be an important way to reduce costs and be an important part of fungicide resistance management,” Miller said.

UI plant pathologist Oliver Neher, who has also studied BmJ in Montana, said it takes two to three days for the product to improve a plant’s resistance and the effects last for two to three weeks, with peak effectiveness after five to seven days. Neher said the product should be used in tandem with other chemicals rather than on a stand-alone basis and can be tank-mixed effectively.

Tests in Aberdeen confirm programs incorporating BmJ are comparable or better to other programs for white mold and early blight in potatoes. Trials involving Rhizoctonia are in their first year.

UI Extension seed pathologist Phil Nolte’s research shows BmJ used in high doses can cut PVY rates in half. While traditional insecticides don’t work quickly enough to prevent aphids from spreading PVY, a virus especially concerning to seed potato growers, BmJ helps the plant withstand an attack.

“A product that can provide some protection for us (against PVY) would be very desirable,” Nolte said.

In 2012, Montana seed growers obtained a Section 18 Emergency Exemption through EPA to use BmJ for PVY. Ockey explained the exemption wasn’t granted for this season because the lack of any control plots made results inconclusive.


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