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Are UV an alternative to fungicides?

Intensive agriculture has its downside: as soon as a pathogen settles in, it has very favorable conditions for its development, because the crop it is targeting is very concentrated. Hence the massive use of plant protection chemicals. Can we do without them? An innovative method makes it possible to significantly reduce their use. Approach? Prevention. Technique? UV rays.

February 2018
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lire en français
Executive Summary

Paris Innovation Review - Can you describe your technology in a nutshell?

Yves Matton - The principle is simple: it is based on a natural phenomenon, plant’s self-protection process. We use UV rays to activate this phenomenon. UV rays are a good way to apply some stress, low enough not to have a negative effect, but strong enough to be perceived by the plant and elicit a response. This method can be compared to vaccination. It is a stimulation of the natural defenses, which will allow the plant to be more resistant to a pathogen.

What type of pathogen?

Theoretically all of them, but for the moment we are concentrating on fungi, which cause a lot of damage to different types of crops, including vines, especially when these plants are grown in more humid environments than their original biotope.

This humidity favors fungi. This problem has been known for centuries, and has been treated with more or less success. Our method represents a disruption compared to the two major treatments offered so far, fungicides and GM. In the case of vines, these are mainly fungicides, which are difficult for winegrowers to do without and which can affect the quality of production.

Can UV application replace fungicides?

No, but it can significantly reduce doses. Above all, it is a preventive method. UV-treated plants are in an active standby state; they are less susceptible to attack, and the amount of plant protection products needed for crop protection can be reduced.

It is a partial alternative to other existing methods. But under very high pressure conditions we have to treat anyway. GMOs are another approach; here the idea is to replace part of these treatments.

The challenge of UV rays is to provide producers with similar yields, but guarantee better quality because the use of plant protection products can be considerably reduced.

It can also be part of organic farming approaches.

Yes, and in this respect our offer clearly meets a demand. Organic fruits and vegetables are a fast-growing segment, far from the niche they represented just a few years ago.

But beyond the organic market, there are also public health issues within production sites. The reduction of plant protection products is a public objective and, increasingly, a requirement from farmers for their own health and that of local residents.

Finally, there is a growing concern for environmental impact. Chemicals alter soils and can contribute to their degradation. They also end up in groundwater... Alternative methods – even partial ones – are definitely the future.

For farmers, the economic calculation can be decisive.

Yes, and we are not just talking about the direct costs (the device, the chemical inputs it allows to save), but also about the amount of work and the learning that may be necessary.

This conditions our research and development work: we try to use a certain wavelength range, which allows us both to apply this stress in a natural way (near sunlight) and to apply it fairly quickly – in other words, at the speed of the tractor on which the device is fixed.

An easy use, as well as the right articulation with existing technologies, are key points, which will condition the adoption of our product. It is essential that this be easy to implement and do not represent more work. We are trying to develop not only a technology, but a solution; a solution that is economically and technically attractive enough for any producer to be potentially interested.

A difference with plant protection products is that they are consumables, whereas your device is an investment.

For users, the cost calculation is different. It is likely that initially small farms will not be able to buy it on their own, but it is a product that can be shared.

Whether large or small farmers, they will all make the same calculation: they know exactly what plant protection products cost them. That is why it is important for us to demonstrate efficiency and to measure precisely the added value of our product, in order to allow this calculation. It takes time! Because working on the vine, which has an annual vegetation cycle, is less easy than developing a technology adapted to greenhouse gardening: our testing phase and the production of the proof of concept is inevitably slower.

We now have prototypes, and we are looking to demonstrate efficiency under different conditions. The objective is to have achieved our first representative testing campaign at the end of 2018.

Yves Matton
Co-founder, UV Boosting