The Van Trump Report

Australian Startup Developing Novel New Pesticides from Silica

Insects are an all-year threat to crops, both in the field and in the bin. While a lot of attention is given to control measures used during the growing season, stored grain is equally at risk. Australian startup Davren Global is developing a novel grain protectant method utilizing a type of silica to create a non-toxic dust that is lethal to insects. What’s more, it doesn’t require an air-tight storage facility and appears to maintain its effectiveness far beyond that of traditional grain protectants.  

A spin-out from Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Plant Biosecurity, Davren’s secret weapon is called synthetic amorphous silica (SAS), a type of silicon dioxide (aka silica), the most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust. It’s found naturally in water, plants, animals, and even in the tissues of the human body. Quartz is an example of silicon dioxide in its crystalline form. Amorphous silica, in contrast, does not have a clearly defined shape or form and usually exists as fluffy powders. While there are natural occurrences of it such as diatomaceous earth, silicon dioxide as an amorphous substance is typically man-made, hence the “synthetic” tag.

SAS has a broad range of industrial uses but is also widely used in food products as a thickener, anti-caking agent, and carrier for fragrances and flavors, among other things. While amorphous silica is non-toxic to humans, other mammals, birds, fish, plants, and the environment generally, it has a nasty effect on insects. SAS basically damages an insect’s exoskeleton which leads to dehydration and eventual death. In laboratory settings and early field trials completed by Davren Global to date, the company has been able to show that SAS can fully control red flour beetle, rusty grain beetle, rice weevil, and saw-toothed grain beetle.

Davren Global chief executive officer Darren Cundy says its SAS-based grain protectant is applied post-harvest as a dust, though they are still developing the equipment that will allow the grains to be mixed with the right amount of silica. Cundy says it will probably be an auger-type arrangement that farmers can use in on-farm grain storage. “Farmers are already familiar with using liquids to apply grain protectants, so we’ll be developing an equivalent approach that will allow them to apply the dust in an easy, controllable, and safe way.”

Davren’s SAS protectant may also provide much longer protection than conventional liquids, which have a short half-live and need to be prepared ahead of time. Once those conventional protectants are mixed into the solution, they immediately start to degrade which means that farmers have to be quick to apply them in order to maximize their effectiveness. Conventional products typically only provide protection for three to six months. Cundy says SAS’s incredibly stable nature means that undisturbed SAS could still be active a year after application, depending on environmental conditions, or perhaps even longer.

Another benefit of Devron’s SAS technology is that it doesn’t need sealed storage to remain effective. “Farmers can utilize unsealable storages that would previously not have been an option if they want effective control. And it gives farmers who use gas-tight storages the flexibility to open and close stockpiles to make partial sales into short-term, high-margin markets,” says Cundy.

Cundy is also hopeful that Devron’s SAS technology may solve one of agriculture’s biggest problems – insect resistance. The company doesn’t provide any data on this, only saying that it is “unlikely to induce resistance,” so only time will tell on that. However, SAS does sound like it could fill a growing demand for less toxic agrochemicals. “If you think of Davren as a novel insecticide, then wherever there are insects there’s an opportunity to control them in a safe, more environmentally benign way,” Cundy said.

To help accelerate its path to market, Devron Global recently announced a partnership with Nufarm, one of the largest agrochemical companies in Australia. “By the end of the first quarter of next year, we should have the data package that Nufarm needs to see in order to decide if we proceed to field trials,” says Cundy. Those trials will likely run for at least two full growing seasons before the product can be introduced as a commercially viable alternative. The company recently also signed an agreement with Bayer, though details aren’t readily available. Cundy says collaborations of this caliber are proof of the enormous potential of Davren Global’s solution, and they’ll serve a crucial role in helping it bring this product to market. More details are available at AgFunder. (Sources: AgFunder, FarmWeekly)

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