Climate

Bitters as antifungals  

Many plants make their own antibodies against diseases. If you remove those substances, you can use them in other crops as a natural crop protection agent. More biological and less chemical crop protection makes crops more environmentally friendly.
21 April 2022

Anti-fungal from chicory and endive
‘We are not a crop protection agent company but this was too great an opportunity to pass up. Stemphylium beticola leaf spot occurs on plants including sugar beet and chicory. In sugar beet, this results in damage and considerable yield losses. Chicory is not sensitive to this mould and it does not spread. Bram Hanse from the IRS research institute observed this and, as we cooperate frequently with this institute, we wanted to know more. A new project was born: CHIBA. ‘That was in 2015’, Matthew de Roode, Corporate Development Manager at Cosun and CHIBA Project Leader (CHIcory Bitter component as Antifungals), explains.

Twelve different bitter components
Many plants produce their own antibodies against diseases. It was already known that the bitter components of chicory and endive, which give endive its typical bitter flavour, have this function. Matthew: ‘Chicory contains twelve different bitter components.’

Collecting evidence
Cosun extracted the components and developed an analysis method for the bitter component mix. This enabled us to identify which combination of bitter components works best. IRS offered a test location and the practical knowledge of the correct way to spray the crop; a very low dose seems to work best. Wageningen University & Research acted as a helpdesk, where necessary.

Matthew: ‘We wanted to collect evidence and use this to convince crop protection agent manufacturers. Because ensuring that a new agent is granted legal authorisation, even if it is organic, is a specific specialism that demands many steps. It’s not our aim to become experts in this. We are developers and simply want to supply the ingredient.’

The evidence was produced. A crop protection agent manufacturer is now interested and aims to conduct its own tests. ‘I’m expecting an antifungal agent based on our bitter components to be available within three years’, Matthew says.

 Biobased and circular
Using plants as raw material and product streams that are reused, CHIBA is contributing to a biobased economy; an important step en route to a circular economy. ‘We make much better use of the chicory roots now as we not only extract the dietary fibre inulin but also other usable substances from those roots. We also collect roots from endive forcers. These roots are usually used as animal feed. We now extract more from these roots and return the crops to the land in the form of a natural crop protection agent’, Matthew says. ‘The time is ripe for more plant-based raw materials. Activities we’ve been involved in for some time are now popular among a broad audience.

Matthew de Roode
Apparently chicory contains twelve different bitter components”
Matthew de Roode
Corporate Development Manager at Cosun