FFF Podcast Episode 18: When David went to Eden

By Frank Buhagiar on Thursday 22 June 2023

FFF Podcast Episode 18: When David went to Eden
Image source: FFF Podcast Episode 18: When David went to Eden

“We’re not going to colonise Mars anytime soon…”

No need to check the link. This is the right page for Episode 18 of FFF’s podcast series, the go-to for all-things food/agtech-related. The Mars reference in the latest podcast was made by Sean Smith, CEO of plant-tech Eden Research, in answer to David Stevenson’s question: “We’re all aware repeated use of pesticides is getting into the ecosystem so why should we care that there is a replacement for traditional synthetic pesticides?”

The ‘replacements’ David refers to are bio-pesticides.  Luckily, Sean is the right man to ask as bio-pesticides are Eden’s area of expertise. So, it’s well worth listening to what the Eden CEO has to say: “The world isn’t getting any bigger and we’re not going to colonise Mars anytime soon and of course the population continues to grow…what that means is when it comes to efficient land use, growers have to grow as much produce as they possibly can per hectare and so crop-protection products help them to do that.”

According to Sean, the overall crop-protection market is worth around US$58 billion per annum and is growing globally at rates in the high-single digits.  Within this, as Sean highlights: “…the bio-pesticide sector is estimated to be about US$11 billion per year…it is probably the fastest-growing segment within the overall crop-protection industry itself.  I think the estimates are it is growing at about 15% per year.” Why? “…regulation – regulators around the world are responding to consumer concerns and government concerns about health, safety and the environment...”

So, what do bio-pesticides have that synthetics don’t and, first and foremost, what are bio-pesticides? -  David’s “64 trillion-dollar question.” As Sean explains, “…what we are looking to do is leverage nature’s own resources.  In some cases, biologicals could mean a predatory bug targeting another that might be a pest. The same applies to the use of bacterial proteins, fungal proteins to again target what are effectively pests.”

Sean uses AIM-traded Eden’s own work as an example: “…what we are doing is basically leveraging the active molecules that are present within plant-derived essential oils. With clove oil for example, clove oil is made up of…a whole bunch of different chemistry and what we’re…focusing on is one of those molecules, eugenol…we’re using the pure active ingredients and then we’re packaging them up in a clever way using yeast-cell walls to help make the product more stable, safer, more useable in the field.”

One Eden product that uses eugenol is Mevalone which, crucially, is just as efficacious (try saying that quickly) at protecting crops as conventional synthetic pesticides: “Our fungicide is absolutely just as efficacious against Botrytis as the conventional chemistry we see.” Bortytis?  Over to the Royal Horticultural Society for a definition: “Grey mould, caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea, is a very common disease, causing a soft decay of plant tissues accompanied by a growth of fuzzy grey-brown mould…It is…a common disease of soft fruit, such as gooseberries, strawberries and grapes.” And as Sean adds: “When Bortytis hits in a vineyard, you can wipe out 70% of a crop in a matter of days.”

There you go David - one reason why wine drinkers, at least, ought to care about pesticides. As for non-wine drinkers, why not grab your favourite tipple, sit back and have a listen to the podcast…