Big Companies Expand Testing of Organic "Biopesticides"

Jun 23, 2015

Petri dishes filled with colonies of microorganisms at Marrone Bio Innovations, in Davis, Calif.
Credit Dan Charles / NPR

One of the biggest hurdles farmers have faced in recent years is the sticky problem of how to kill weeds organically. As conventional farmers fall under increasing pressure to use fewer toxic chemicals, they have begun to search for less pernicious methods of eliminating weeds, according to One answer is microbe-produced pesticides, known as biopesticides.

These microbes, which have long been popular among organic farmers, are being used more and more often by the big companies. Some call these microbes "probiotics for crops," and there are even microbes that give crops a boost while safely killing weeds. For example, the monolithic chemical company Dupont has begun testing a new microbe to see if it boosts corn yields. Other big companies like Monsanto and Bayer are running similar tests.