October 2, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

Soybean crops could benefit immensely from AgroGreen’s environmentally-friendly pest control product, according to the company.’Nature has a way of healing itself’ is what organic gardeners believe, leaving no room between their rows of carrots, lettuce and sweet corn for chemically derived pesticides. Unselective at whom it targets, and damaging to soil and water table, chemical pesticides may be the norm for conventional agriculture in America, but they may not be for long, as more consumers demand organic produce and more rigorous chemical safety standards.

A new branch of research has developed in the last couple of decades around natural solutions in gardening, agriculture and forestry. It is an area called biological control and its researchers use natural predators such as insects and bacteria to ward off attackers – in a highly specific and harmless way to the surroundings, just how nature intended. The ladybug beetle, purchasable in gardening stores, is a classic example.

Now with America’s Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) seal of approval, Israel’s AgroGreen is about to help American farmers say goodbye, once and for all, to the nasty chemicals used to kill damaging nematodes (or roundworms) feeding on fruit orchards and crops in the field. Doron Yonay, the business development and marketing manager for AgroGreen tells ISRAEL21c that the company is now negotiating with a number of American firms to help distribute AgroGreen’s star product BioNem.

Nature’s relentless attackers

Nematodes are one of the most prolific groups of animals on our planet. In plants and trees they infect the roots, often damaging the plant before a farmer notices. In America, they infect a wide range of edible crops, which are then treated by poisonous chemicals to restrain the relentless attackers.

Some chemical poisons on the market in America include Temik, and Telone. Nemacur was recently taken off the market due to toxicity concerns; while methyl bromide, which breaks down to a greenhouse gas, is also widely used in America, although it’s banned in other developed countries.

A safe, naturally derived solution couldn’t come fast enough, but it’s not just the environmental safety that makes BioNem, available next year in the US, likely to win American farmers over: “Not only are we providing safer products, we provide a solution that competes in efficacy with the chemical solutions on the market,” says Yonay.

A solution for chronic infestation

“Our organism, a bacteria that occurs naturally in Israel’s soil, has an effect in the ground that lasts much longer than the chemical solution,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “For chronic infestation this adds value.”

According to Ernst & Young, the US nematode pesticide market is valued at $270 million, and $750 million worldwide. That’s a lot of money working to kill a small worm.

Based in Ashdod, Israel, AgroGreen is a subsidiary of Minrav Holdings, which focuses on Real Estate investments: “We’re the odd investment,” says Yonay. “But our chairman Abraham Kuznitsky had a vision that involved biological control.”

Bought by Minrav in 1997, today AgroGreen has its own dedicated R&D team of 20 working on a number of solutions. The company has a second commercial product called Shemer, a yeast based anti-fungicide which prevents and controls fruit before and after the fruit is harvested. It is currently being used in Israel.

In the United States, AgroGreen sees a huge potential for BioNem. It can also be used to treat seeds for raw crops before they are planted to ensure better harvest success. Vegetables in America that will benefit from BioNem include soybean crops, corn, and cotton as well as a wide range of orchard fruits.

This is important to American consumers, according to the company: “Consumers are increasingly unwilling to buy food that was treated with chemicals and contains pesticide residues. In a growing number of countries, consumer groups are keenly aware of food safety and actively lobby for such residues to be eliminated from the food chain.

“This trend fits well with new generations of biological pesticides, which are not only effective but also satisfy end user demands,” writes AgroGreen’s website.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director