Accelerating Speed to Market for Crop Protection Products

The world’s population is growing—and now more than ever, crop protection has an essential role in boosting food production. Crop protection tools control pests and diseases that reduce yields and damage food quality—without them, it is estimated that world production of fruit, vegetables, etc. would decrease by up to 45 percent, increasing the world’s food bill considerably.

The crop protection industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world. New products must be thoroughly tested, including quantification of compounds such as carcinogenic nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are defined as a type of chemical found in tobacco products and tobacco smoke. Nitrosamines are also found in many foods, including fish, beer, fried foods and meats. Some nitrosamines have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals and may increase the risk of certain types of cancer in humans.

In order to demonstrate that nitrosamines are within the acceptable limits deemed by international agencies, accurate testing must be carried out. To accelerate the process from field to market, this testing must be carried out as quickly as possible.

Innovation within regulation

There are several steps involved in the development of a new crop protection product (herbicide, fungicide, insecticide or seed treatment): discovery and formulation of the product, trials and field development, toxicology, environmental impacts and final registration. New product registration requires demonstration of safety for all aspects of the environment, the workers, the crops that are being protected and the food that is consumed. This includes carrying out comprehensive risk assessments based on data from numerous safety studies and an understanding of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).

Thus, a significant amount of time and money is invested into the registration of a crop protection product. The chance of a discovery compound passing all safety and efficacy tests en route to market is estimated to be 1 or 2 in 100,000, taking on average eight to 10 years and costing around $260 million before commercial launch.

Case study—ensuring consumer safety

Syngenta, headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, provides products and solutions that help farmers sustainably achieve global food security for a growing population.

Senior Analytical Chemist at Syngenta, Dr. Kirt Durand, is responsible for quantifying nitrosamines in technical material for use in pesticides, herbicides and other crop protection products. Nitrosamines are formed by reaction of secondary or tertiary amines with a nitrosating agent. Research suggests that nitrosamines can be carcinogenic, hence the need for rigorous testing.

Syngenta is required to verify the absence of nitrosamines or quantify the amount of nitrosamines (ppm levels) in active ingredients, displaying they are within set guidelines and regulations. For every new compound that has the potential to contain nitrosamines, Durand and his team develop methods to ensure the levels do not exceed accepted standards. Detection technology for this requirement had not advanced since the early 1980s.

Previously used systems were first produced in the 1970s by Thermedics. These versions had an LC injection and GC injection mode and were around the size of an average refrigerator. The successor to these first generation instruments only offered the GC injection mode. The legacy systems meant productivity was poor. Downtime proved an issue for Durand’s team along with the challenge of sourcing parts to replace those that were faulty. This resulted in samples which should take a couple of days, taking weeks. This hampered the team’s ability to register materials and get them to market quickly.

Furthermore, sensitivity, safety and maintenance were additional issues. The team were only able to run three injections before having to stop, flush and calibrate. As the old system contained an ozone trap, ozone was held in place and any failure of an O-ring or part could run the risk of toxic ozone leaking into the lab. The maintenance was also very messy due to the oil pump needing to be refilled with new oil very regularly. This was due to the ozone in the trap corroding the oil, turning it into messy sludge, rendering the system difficult to clean and re-lubricate.

The previous analytical system had several drawbacks, not least of which was the time it took to test, restricting productivity and time-tomarket. It was imperative for the business to find a better solution.

Increased sensitivity and selectivity

After years of research and development, the result is a custom LC-TEA system, designed to meet Syngenta’s needs and solve the complex challenges of food testing. The system enables high selectivity for nitro, nitroso functional groups, which allows only the compounds of interest to be seen.

Additionally, it provides very high sensitivity (<2pg N/sec Signal to Noise 3:1), meaning it is able to detect compounds of interest at extremely low levels. The customized system also uses a different interface with a furnace, rather than the standard pyrolyser, to allow for the additional energy required and larger diameter tubing for working with a liquid sample rather than gas.

The new system enables Syngenta to run five to six times more samples with increased automation. As a direct result, Syngenta has seen significant productivity gains, reduced maintenance costs and more accurate results. Accurate and rapid detection is fundamental in the crop protection industry, enabling stringent safety standards to be met and maximizing food security.

Crop protection going forward

One of the main goals of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) is to encourage sustainable farming through the responsible use of crop protection technologies, which are integral to food security. Crop protection product manufacturers play a vital role in the food chain to safely feed the world in a sustainable manner.

Utilizing cutting-edge technology will enable companies to promote the highest agricultural and food safety standards, as well as increase productivity. To achieve these goals, collaboration with leading analytical instrumentation vendors will make a significant contribution to global food security and lead to innovative crop protection solutions.

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