Nanotechnology developed at the University of Toronto is boosting yields on more than one million acres of crops in the United States, but so far not in Canada.
Vive Crop is the company marketing the technology offered via Allospere, the company formed from the research.
The technique encapsulates pesticides in polymer, then is delivered by RNA (messenger genetic material) into plant tissues. In that respect it is similar to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
In the case of potatoes, it has boosted yields by as much as 2,000 pounds per acre, reports Matthew Halliday of the MaRS centre in Toronto. MaRS is a government-formed entity to commercialize research.
Darren Anderson, chief executive officer of Vive Crop, said one sugar beet grower in the United States was able to eliminate a second pesticide application, saving 40,000 gallons of water and 220 gallons of diesel fuel.
It has also been applied to fields producing corn, sugar beets, soybeans and alfalfa. In corn it has been used to control nematodes; in soybeans to deliver innoculants.
Vive Crop said it has conducted more than 400 field trials over 15 years.
It says the technology reduces field trips, saves water, time and hassles.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency approved the technology and Vive Crop products in 2013, but Health Canada has yet to issue a decision on the company’s applications.
Psigryph is another company using nanotechnology for agriculture and food system applications. It is led by Gopinadhan Paliyath of the University of Guelph.
He estimates it will take two to three years to gain government approvals for his Nanopect technology. It is derived from cherries and, as with Allospere, is designed to deliver crop treatments more efficiently.
Paliyath is also working to develop products that could be sprayed on fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh longer by slowing thee ripening process.
He said in some cases shelf life could be increased up to four-fold.
Paliyath said the technology holds promise for improving the environment by reducing the amount of pesticides and fertilizers required to optimum yields.
John Dutcher, research chairman in the Novel Sustainable Nanomaterials program at the University of Guelph, said in a paper he has written about agriculture and food applications that one of the challenges will be consumer acceptance.
He recommends a public education program to avoid the resistance faced by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as better corn varieties.