The new generation pesticides being marketed by multinationals in India have three broad characteristics, captured in DuPont’s highly successful Rynaxypyr insect control molecule sold as ‘Coragen’ suspension concentrate and ‘Ferterra’ granular formulation.

Spraying less

The first is that, being based on completely new chemistry and novel modes of action, they require low levels of spraying.

Sugarcane farmers, for instance, need to use just 150 ml of Coragen formulation that is diluted in 400 litres of water for every acre. For paddy, soyabean, tomato, arhar or chilli, the requirement is even lower at 60 ml/acre.

Compared this with old generation pesticides such as chlorpyrifos, monocrotophos or endosulfan, where farmers typically had to spray anywhere from 250 ml to one litre, leaving behind higher traces of residues in the soil and up the food chain.

Reduced spraying, in turn, is the product of new research. Anthranilic diamides – the class of insecticide molecules to which Rynaxypyr or Bayer’s Flubendiamide (‘Fame’) belong – basically work on the ‘ryanodine receptors’ in insect pests that regulate the release of stored calcium critical for their muscle function. By binding to these receptors, the diamide compounds cause uncontrolled release and depletion of calcium, leading to muscle paralysis and ultimately the death of the insects.

Patent protected

That links up with the second characteristic of the new generation molecules, which are far more efficient and, hence, require lower amount of application for controlling target pests: They are mostly patented.

DuPont’s patent for Rynaxypyr was filed in August 2002, which confers it protection for at least another nine years. This is unlike an earlier molecule, Indoxacarb, which DuPont had launched in India in 2000 under the ‘Avaunt’ brand.

Since Indoxacarb was patented in 1992 and India did not recognise any product patents filed before 1995, this insecticide (used to control cotton bollworm) could not get any protection against ‘me-too’ players.

With the likes of Gharda Chemicals and Atul Ltd coming out with their generic versions at price 30-40 per cent lower– not to speak of the strides made by Bt cotton, providing in-built genetically engineered resistance to bollworm – ‘Avaunt’ sales are today half of what they were in the peak year of 2004.

There are no such problems in Rynaxypyr, introduced in India at the same time as in other markets.

“Patent protection is a huge incentive for us to bring the latest products from our research pipeline. The next major insecticide we are planning to launch is Cyazypyr, which would be for kharif 2014,” said Ram K. Mudholkar, Business Director (South Asia) of DuPont’s Crop Protection division.

Cyazypyr (or cyantraniliprole, as the molecule is called) is again from the same anthranilic diamide class of chemicals and, of course, fully patent-protected.

Price to be paid

That connects to the final characteristic. Since the new generation pesticides enjoy patent protection, it endows extra pricing power to the companies selling them.

For a sugarcane farmer, the cost of a single 150 ml dose of ‘Coragen’ formulation works out to Rs 1,600 an acre. This is about a fourth of what he would pay for a single spray of pesticides based on the older chemistries.

But the difference – which is where the new chemistry comes into play – is that farmers were earlier also having to spray four times.

“To control kansuan (early shoot borer) and choti vaidak (top borer), I used to apply ‘Caldan’ (cartap hydrochloride) twice and also ‘Thimet’ (phorate) two times. Each of these sprays cost Rs 400 an acre. Practically speaking, I am ending up paying the same,” noted Tejpal Singh, a 30-acre farmer from Kalsoura village in Haryana’s Karnal district.

But the important thing, according to him, was that “previously I used to harvest 28-30 tonnes of cane an acre, whereas that has now gone up by 5-7 tonnes.” And this clearly had to do with better control over kansuan and choti vaidak , courtesy ‘Coragen’.

“For now, Coragen is certainly working against these pests and has given us value for money. What will happen tomorrow I cannot say,” said Mewa Singh, who grows sugarcane on 20 out of his 50-acre holding in Chorpura, also in Karnal district.