LIFE MICROFIGHTER – Innovative Zeo-Biopesticides, based on useful microorganisms, for eliminating the use of copper-based pesticides
Duration of the project:
1. 8. 2022. – 31. 1. 2026.
Sveučilište u Zadru, Federación de Cooperativas Agrarias de la Comunidad Valenciana (FECOAV), Consorzio per la Cooperazione e la Solidarietà, L’Università degli Studi di Ferrara (UniFe), Università degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia (UniMoRe), Consorzio Agrario di Ravenna, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), Agenzia per la Sperimentazione Tecnologica e la Ricerca Agroambientale
Copper-based agrochemicals are widely used to control the bacterial and fungal diseases that blight key crops in Europe, such as downy mildew on grape. Areas of high use tend to have rainy springs and frequent high humidity. Widespread use of these copper compounds, however, is not sustainable, accumulating in fruits at dangerous levels. Furthermore, agricultural workers are often exposed to levels exceeding the acceptable risk to health. Use of copper-based chemicals may also increase the phytotoxicity of soil, the pathogen resistance and financial costs. In addition, the leached copper from the agricultural fields feeds into water bodies and precipitates in sediments where its accumulation can seriously threaten aquatic organisms, such as algae, invertebrate species and fishes. Copper toxicity also affects bees, birds, some mammals and various soil macro-organisms.
Although the EU is progressively limiting the use of copper-based pesticides, they are still widely used in many countries, especially in organic farming, since effective alternatives are not available.
Natural zeolites are volcanic rocks that can partly control a number of pests and diseases when applied through a foliar coating treatment. Microbial BioControl agents (mBCA) are beneficial microorganisms that are effective against some pathogens, through a combination of actions. The use of natural zeolites together with mBCAs, which have been successfully tested in the laboratory, offers a promising way of protecting crops, while reducing copper inputs to agricultural systems.
The LIFE MICROFIGHTER project aims to:
- Demonstrate the viability of a new naturally-occuring and environmentally sustainable Zeo-Biopesticide made from K-chabasite zeolites and a mBCA (Pseudomonas sp. DLS65) as an alternative to copper-based products for the control of the most threatening diseases affecting the cultivation of grapes, tomatoes and olives (e.g downy mildew, bacterial speck, bacterial spot, olive knot disease and peacock eye) in integrated pest management and organic farms in Italy, Croatia and Spain;
- Reduce copper input in agricultural soils from around 4 kg/ha/year to 2 kg/ha/year without affecting the quantity and quality of production (the total substitution of copper with the new Zeo-Biopesticide will also be evaluated in view of a ban of copper-based agrochemicals);
- Demonstrate that using new Zeo-Biopesticide will decrease annually the amount of copper accumulated in the topsoil by at least 0.7 ppm, while increasing soil biodiversity;
- Promote, encourage and support the use of the innovative Zeo-Biopesticide and the cultivation strategies tested in the project as alternatives to copper for the cultivation of grape, tomato and olive, thanks to the dissemination of the results to the relevant stakeholders, including farmers and policy-makers; and
- Carry out careful monitoring of the planned field tests, as well as a lifecycle analysis of the product, and draw up a business plan for marketing the new Zeo-Biopesticide within five years of the end of the project.
- In all the test sites (Italy, Spain and Croatia):
- Total copper input reduced from 4 kg/ha/y to 2.33 kg/ha/year. Instead of 72 kg, only 42 kg will be applied in total, thus saving around 30 kg of copper pesticides or around 41.7% of the current use;
- A decrease in copper accumulation in the topsoil layer (first 30 cm) with no copper use of at least 0.7 ppm/year (1.4 ppm over the two years of the project) compared with 100% copper use;
- A decrease in copper accumulation in the topsoil layer with 50% copper addition of at least 0.35 ppm/year (0.7 ppm over the two years of the project) compared with 100% copper use;
- Target diseases controlled by a treatment comprising 50% copper and 50% Zeo-Biopesticide, with at least the same effectiveness as fully copper-based treatment;
- Increase of soil microbial biodiversity in all the test sites after two years of application of the project approach; and
- No impact on taste and marketability of products resulting from applying the project approach.