Why Are There So Few New Crop Controls?

Why Are There So Few New Crop Controls?


The University of Arizona research field in Yuma, AZ

A cardinal rule for crop protection is the need to switch up which pesticides you use to avoid resistance. There’s just one problem with that. Growers’ options are narrowing.

Local and state governments are beginning to restrict whole classes of pesticides. As that’s happening, very few products with truly new modes of action replace lost chemistries.


“From 1993-2014 we saw 20 new classes of chemistry developed for the vegetable crops with multiple active ingredients with many of the chemistries (i.e., diamides). Since then I’ve yet to see a new insecticide chemistry hit the market,” says John Palumbo, Research Scientist, Vegetable Crops (Extension), University of Arizona.

That begs the question: why are so few new active ingredients introduced?

What’s Behind the Huge Costs

The most well-known reason why so few truly new products hit the market is the overwhelming expense involved. An often-quoted figure is each new chemistry takes $300 million to achieve approval.

There are several factors driving that figure. The first relates to the sheer number of rejected formulas.

“You look at having 150,000 compounds to screen and hopefully having one of them turn into an active ingredient with a new mode of action,” says Steve Broscious, BASF’s Technical Marketing Manager.

It takes years to find a formula you want to bring to market. Chemist Arthur Nonomura and the late plant scientist Andrew Benson (who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry) started working on a new BRANDT plant growth regulator, GlucoPro, 30 years ago. It’s easy to see how costs pile up with that kind of time line.

These factors existed years ago, and products made it to market regularly. What’s changed? In a word, regulations.

First, EPA rules expanded to include studies on how pesticides affect “nontarget” organisms. It exponentially complicated an already dense approval process.

The bigger factor, however, is globalization. Where before, companies focused on EPA and state level approvals. They now also need to worry about international regulations.

Consolidation Factors In, Too

Only a fraction of the agricultural crop protection companies from 20 years ago exist today. And that has an impact.

“Instead of two companies with two R&D [research and development departments], you have one,” Broscious says.

Biocontrols Have an Easier Path

Biocontrols are “tolerant exempt,” says Palumbo, which makes their path to market much easier.

“It’s a 24- to 27-month process to show there are no adverse impacts, compared to 8 to 10 years,” says Paul Zorner, Locus Agricultural Solutions (Locus AG).

That easier path to market partly accounts for the rapidly evolving biocontrols market. Due to the nature of biocontrols, that’s unlikely to change much.

But EPA is paying attention to biocontrols and adapting.

When Vestaron registered its new peptide product, Spear, with EPA, the agency realized some products do not fall neatly within the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division (BPPD), says Bob Kennedy, Vestaron’s Chief Science Officer. So EPA created a new division in BPPD, the Emerging Technologies Branch.

These Products Survived the Gauntlet

Here are three products for vegetable crops debuting this year that gained a new mode of
action designation.

Sefina and Versys from BASF
  • Active Ingredient: Inscalis
  • Mode of Action: Inscalis is a nerve disruptor targeting a location in the nervous system higher up the nerve chain than neonicotinoides or pyrethroids. It has a 9D IRAC Group classification, which is a new subgroup.
Spear Lep from Vestron
  • Active Ingredient: GS-omega/kapp-Hxtx-Hv1a
  • Mode of Action: Spear binds to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) at a site allosteric to nicotine and neonicitonoids [IRAC 32]. The MOA is similar to spinosyns, but distinct enough for crops to have no cross-resistance.
GlucoPro from BRANDT
  • Active Ingredient: Methyl-alpha-D-mannopyranoside (CAS#617-04-9)
  • Mode of Action: GlucoPro disables lectin proteins to prevent them from binding to glucose. This releases glucose that is bound to the lectins and frees it into the plant, providing the plant with a flush of energy to carry out its biological functions.