The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


The Economic and Environmental Impacts of Investments
In Biotechnology Research to Control
Soil Born Diseases In Agriculture

S. Hafez,
University if Idaho,

Synthetic chemicals are the principle method being used to control weeds, insects, and soil born diseases on agricultural crops. Chemical applications to control pests are expensive with negative environmental impacts. In some cases, pesticides are not available to control pests on certain crops. Environmental concerns have caused the EPA to place other chemicals on the ban list. An alternative to synthetic chemicals in pest control is becoming increasingly important.

Biotechnology research and evolving technologies promise the production of an economic and environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic chemicals in controlling pests. Research in this area has extracted toxic biochemicals from plant tissues and has tested their effect on controlling pests. Glucosinolates contained in cruciferous crop tissues (Brassica napus) produce a number of chemicals when mixed with soils that are effective in controlling soil borne diseases, insects, and weeds. Present varieties of cruciferous crops such as; mustard seeds, rapeseeds, oil radish, etc. contain different amounts of glucosinolates and release different levels of toxic biochemicals. The application of these varieties as green manure have shown various degrees of success in controlling weeds and soil born diseases. Genetic engineering is being used to develop new varieties of cruciferous crops with glucosinolate contents that are more effective in controlling weeds and soil born diseases.

Glucosinolates contained in the tissue of several varieties of oil radishes and white mustard release toxic biochemicals that have been very effective in controlling several species of nematodes common on potatoes and sugarbeets in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) region of the United States. Nematodes most associated with potato production are root-knot (Meloidogne chitwoodi, M. hapla), root lesion (Pratylenchus neglectus), stubby root (Paratrichodrus), and potato rot (Ditylenchus destructor). Sugarbeet Cyst nematode (Heterodera schachtii) is the most destructive plant parasitic nematode species. An estimated 50 percent of the potato and sugarbeet acreage in the PNW is infested with these nematodes. Of this, 50 percent requires highly toxic fumigants, at a cost of $572 per hectare ($260 per acre).

Lab and field experiments show that glucosinolates contained in the tissue of the Adagio variety of oil radish, when used as green manure, release sufficient quantity of toxic biochemicals that have reduced the population of these nematodes by 92 percent, increased yield, and eliminated the needs for toxic fumigants on potato and sugarbeet fields. Estimated cost of the green manure is $307.43 per hectare ($124.51 per acre).

An ex-ante approach is used to evaluate the benefit of investments in the development and implementation of the nematode biocontrol method. The results of the benefit-cost model, with probability distributions, show an internal rate of return of 102 to investment in the program. Annual net benefit to potato and sugarbeet producers in the PNW exceed $45 million. In addition to the direct economic benefit, the nematode biocontrol method will eliminate 9.25 million kilograms (20.4 million lbs) of active toxic materials from the PNW soils with significant reduction in ground water pollution.

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