Key findings from market analysis for future developments of Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) projects. A focus on codling moth (Cydia pomonella). Wohlfarter M.1, 2, Oliva C.F.3 and Samuelsson M.1
1 Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, 9 Portswood Rd, Cape Town 8002, SA
2 PDM Solutions CC, 13 Plumer Road, Woodstock, 7925, SA
3 Centre Technical Interprofessional Fruits Légumes, 751 chemin de Balandran, 30127 Bellegarde, France
Codling moth (CM) is a key pest on deciduous fruit, particularly apples, pears and walnuts. It has shown remarkable resilience to develop resistance to conventional and biological pesticides. In light of strict EU policies such as Directive 2009/128 and country-specific guidelines such as EcoPhyto, by 2025 France is attempting to have reduced pesticide use by 50%. Lack of understanding of the challenges growers face makes these ambitions difficult to achieve. Under pressure by consumer and lobby groups, pesticides are deregistered, decreasing the remedies available for Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This pressure, including legitimate concerns of indiscriminate pesticide-use, negative environmental externalities, human health and resistance management, has directed research towards novel non-disruptive techniques such as the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). The “Centre Technical Interprofessional Fruits Légumes” (CTIFL), Balandran, France, aspires to greater incorporation of this technique in IPM. But what are the determinants of grower uptake? This research validated CM remains a pest of importance for growers. It provides information on market drivers, cost considerations, policy and environmental concerns, which affect pest management strategies and IPM decisions.
To successfully land a product, it has to speak to the target markets’ needs. France has set an ambitious goal of 50% pesticide-use reduction by 2025 through Directive 2009/128/EC and EcoPhyto II. SIT ticks many boxes within this current policy environment as an alternative pest management measure with no negative externalities. But does it serve the needs of producers?
In partial fulfilment of an MBA study (Wohlfarter, 2019), deciduous fruit growers were asked about their pest management practices and the criteria they considered important to adopt SIT. This study was replicated in SA and France to draw parallels between a market that already is familiar with SIT and one that is not. Although very broadly distributed, only responses from active growers were considered for this analysis, representing; n = 43 SA and n = 70 France. In doing so the study could focus on grower understanding of IPM and not be biased by technical experts. It emphasised a continuous need for extension services and education related to IPM and confirmed that CM remains an important pest for apple and nut growers. The study also shed light on the grower motivators for adopting SIT. These being efficiency of control achieved, speed of delivery, reliability of service and pest monitoring and extension services. “Ease and cost of SIT application” comparative to conventional and biological control were shown as important considerations affecting grower decision-making.
Motivation for the study
Resistance and limitations on Plant Protection Products
The ability of CM to develop resistance
to Plant Protection Products (PPP) is well documented (Cutwright, 1954; Damos, Colomar, & Ioriatti, 2015; Dunley & Welter, 2000; Hough, 1928; Riedl, Blomefield, & Giliomee, 1998; Sauer et al., 2017). In the past this has fuelled developments of CM SIT at OKSIR, in British Columbia, Canada
(Thistlewood, Judd, & Smirle, 2003), Entomon Technologies (Pty) Ltd in the Stellenbosch, SA (Barnes, Hofmeyr, Groenewald, Conlong, & Wohlfarter, 2015; Riedl et al., 1998) and extensive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) collaborative research in Argentina
(Botto & Glaz, 2010), Brazil (Kovaleski & Mumford, 2007), New Zealand (Horner, Walker, Rogers, Lo, & Suckling, 2016) and Syria (Mumford & Knight, 1996).The EU set ambitious targets of pesticide-use reduction through Directive 2009/128/EC and France specifically through EcoPhyto (“EcoPhyto,” 2008; “EcoPhyto II,” 2015). In light of this scissor effect, the strain on remaining PPP increases significantly, leaving growers with fewer remedies and stressing urgent development of alternatives.
urgent development of alternatives. This study was replicated in SA and France to draw parallels between a market that already is familiar with SIT and one that is not.
Importance of market quantification
Growers fear that policy limitations on PPPs reduce the availability of alternatives, further fuelling resistance development (Buckwell, De Wachter, Nadeu, & Williams, 2020). Yet, what criteria will support a novel solution to be adopted? Novel solutions are only as good as their actual market uptake. A solution, regardless of how efficient, will fail unless tested in the actual market and addressing the target customers’ needs. The South African CM SIT program, Entomon Technologies (Pty) Ltd suffered such failure, resulting in its closure at the end of 2014 (Barnes, Hofmeyr, Groenewald, Conlong, & Wohlfarter, 2015). Comparatively, Fruitfly Africa (Pty) Ltd and Xsit (Pty) Ltd, focusing on Fruit Fly (FF) and False codling moth (FCM) respectively, have adequately filled an important niche in pest management and continue to operate successfully (Barnes et al., 2015; Hofmeyr, Groenewald, & Boersma, 2019).
Grower understanding and demand drivers of IPM
IPM was conceptualised in the 70s (Ehler, 2006) and has since been incorporated into many practical and legislative guidelines. SA respondents indicated a more favourable perception towards IPM, with 100% claiming to know what it was and 98% applying it, comparative to only 86% and 73% respectively of the French. The motivation for IPM application was further analysed: 98% and 78% of SA and French respondents respectively believed it was crucial to fight resistance development, 97% and 96% believed it was beneficial to the environment; 97% and 87% indicated it resulted in improved pest management. Additional IPM drivers included “demand by the market” at 83% and 75%; and “accreditation bodies’” and “growers’ associations requiring it” represented 68% and 31% vs. 56% and 45% respectively. Only 48% SA and 24% of French respondents considered it a cost-saving.
Components to IPM
Fig. 1 presents a summary of grower perceptions of the respective levels of importanceof the components of IPM. Although conventional pesticides were still rated highly by SA growers, they were rated significantly lower by the French. Both rated biocontrol very highly, with mating disruption followed by beneficial insects considered the most important components of IPM. SA growers additionally rated cultural practices very highly. The rating for SIT was more polarised, with both countries’ respondents considering it more important than virus and bacteria-based products, EPNs and EPFs. Conversely, SIT also obtained the highest proportion “not applicable” rating at 20% and 18% for SA and French respondents respectively.
Drivers for SIT
Ninety three per cent and 68% of SA and French respondents respectively, claimed to know what SIT was. The lower French score is understandable, considering the absence of commercial SIT programmes in that country. After an explanation of SIT was given, growers were questioned about their nterest in purchasing SIT solutions, which was confirmed by 98% and 95% of SA and French respondents respectively. As the importance of pests in the two countries differs, the relative importance was not directly comparative. The top three key pests with corresponding SIT importance-ratings were FF, CM and FCM at 86%, 66% and 64%, and CM, FF and Stinkbug at 89%, 66% and 57%, respectively for SA and France. Although encouraging, such results need to be considered with caution, as an indication of interest is no guarantee for actual use and purchases. The extent with which the service will meet grower expectations is pivotal. The most important parameters underscoring SA respondents’ (French in brackets) interest for SIT were speed/reliability of service delivery 88% (79%), extension services 84% (79%) and recommendation by technical advisors and extension officers 91% (72%). The latter two highlight the importance of continued interaction with all stakeholders. Reliability of SIT services can be broken down into the ability to produce and deliver sufficient numbers of insects and the insects’ mating ability. SA respondents’ (French in brackets) perception of SIT efficacy was a low 29% (15%), whereas conventional pesticides and biological control were rated 77% (75%) and 50% (44%) efficient respectively (see fig. 2). This low rating of SIT for French respondents was understandable, as they have had no exposure to operational SIT programmes and, therefore, an indication of the urgency of “proof of concept” trials, to bolster confidence before commercialisation. The low rating for SA respondents is, however, concerning and requires immediate attention by stakeholders. SA respondents (French in brackets) considered conventional, all-encompassing biological control and SIT, respectively 65% (75%), 17% (29%) and 19% (12%)
“easy to apply” (see fig. 3). This is an important observation as it highlights grower preference for conventional control, due to convenience, while indicating a concerning lack of convenience in the application of biocontrol solutions. Based on the “cost of application” SA respondents (French in brackets) considered biological control the most expensive compared to conventional control at 80%
(66%) and 61% (41%) respectively. SA respondents considered SIT more expensive than the French at 51% and 32% respectively. Although respondents of both countries showed strong interest in SIT, concerns about its “efficacy”, “ease of application” and “cost” need to be addressed, especially when new ventures are considered. It is also important to note that this observation does not include public sentiment related to the technique, which could influence its roll-out.
Importance rating of the various components of IPM
Grower perception of Efficacy/Success of Control obtained
Grower perception of Ease of Application
Respondents indicated differences in preferred service providers of SIT with South Africans favouring public-private partnerships at 70%, followed by the government, biocontrol suppliers and conventional pesticide suppliers at 58%, 33%, at 14% respectively. French respondents rated biocontrol suppliers highest at 59%, followed by government, public-private partnerships and conventional pesticide suppliers at 50%, 39% and 20% respectively.
Confidence in policy
On a policy-level, ratings also differed significantly with SA respondents indicating higher levels of trust (French in brackets): 61% respondents (18%) considered agricultural policy to be transparent, 65% (16%) reckoned policy is created in consultation with growers and 66% (37%) believed it supports IPM, yet for 73% (66%) it makes quality production more difficult. Some reasons provided by respondents supporting the latter included “policy incoherence” and “increased production costs”.
This study provided some insights on growers’ understanding of IPM and appetite for SIT on various insects. It highlighted the considerations growers favour in making IPM decisions. Efficiently addressing these aspects is crucial to foster grower confidence in the technique. South African and French respondents indicated significantly different sentiments of the policy environment, yet both feared that increasing strictness makes quality production difficult.
In light of this, it is suggested that roll-out of future SIT programmes be driven by bottom-up commercial interests, rather than top-down policy guided. Lastly, effective and timeous communication with all stakeholders is crucial to maintain confidence in the technique.
The authors wish to thank Hortgro (Pty) Ltd, Nemlab (Pty) Ltd, AOP Pomme du Limousin, CTIFL Balandran and Station d’expérimentation nucicole Rhône-Alpes (SENURA) for help in distributing the questionnaires amongst growers.