Farmers face a major crisis today — a “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” crisis. Farmers need to keep their fields free of insects that eat crops and destroy their livelihood.

However, the pesticides that are effective against those insects are causing major environmental damage, killing off not only pests, but helpful insects such as bees.

Studies have linked the disappearance of bees around the world, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, to the overuse of pesticides. Because bees are the effective pollinators of fruit trees — scientists believe that as much as one-third of human nutrition is due to bee pollination — fewer bees means less food. But without pesticides, bug infestations would rise significantly, causing just as many crop losses.

Fortunately, an Israeli start-up has developed a middle way — a system that enables farmers to protect their crops, while avoiding the use of environment-destroying pesticides. And a new study conducted by that start-up, EdenShield, showed just how effective are the company’s natural pesticides, which have been developed from plants and herbs.

In the study, greenhouses in Italy where tomatoes are grown using EdenShield’s GateKeeper prevented close to 100% penetration of pests and led to a reduction of over 80% in the use of pesticides. Control greenhouses demonstrated pest penetration of over 500%.

EdenShield, a portfolio company of Trendlines Agtech, develops insect-control solutions derived from natural plant extracts. The products are nontoxic, so they pose no danger to growers or consumers. And they can be used throughout the growing period, especially during the critical pre-harvest period.

According to D. Todd Dollinger of the Trendlines Agtech accelerator, EdenShield’s products “have the capacity to make a major impact on our food chain, making production more efficient and consumption healthier.”

Yaniv Kitron, CEO and inventor of the EdenShield system, has worked in chemical engineering and herb extraction for nearly two decades. Several years ago, he noticed something: Pests tended to avoid certain bushes and plants, even if they were untreated by pesticide. Upon further research, he realized that what was keeping the bugs away wasn’t chemicals, but the natural aversion of the pests themselves to secretions emitted by the plant.

The pests that are deflected by the secretions in the desert plants researched by Kitron — including thrips, whiteflies, red spider mites, and Tuta absoluta (leaf miners) — are the same ones that make life hell for farmers, who are forced to spray ever-larger amounts of pesticides to keep the bugs out of their tomatoes, lettuce, greenhouse flowers, and other crops. Why not extract the secretions and use them to defend those plants?

Thus was born the idea for EdenShield, said Kitron. “The herbs that we use are endemic to the Israeli desert. And our team has discovered that the specific types of pests we are battling don’t like their odor. So, by turning the herb into an essence that can be sprayed or otherwise applied to nets, the pests don’t even come near, preferring to find plants that don’t feature a scent they cannot tolerate.”

It’s even better than pesticide, Kitron claimed, because the bugs won’t build up a resistance to the odor, as they would to bug spray. “Their dislike of these substances is hardwired into their DNA, so they won’t even come close enough to try to ‘learn’ to like them. Instead, they’ll just fly off elsewhere.”

The GateKeeper includes a sprinkler system that is installed at the entrance of the greenhouse. The sprinkler is designed to spray the EdenShield Net natural pesticide product intermittently throughout the day around the entrance and on the greenhouse netting — not on the plants themselves.

The aromatic components of EdenShield Net, when sprayed on the greenhouse vents and netting, mask the odor of the plants, enhancing the protective capabilities of the greenhouse to prevent insect attraction, which makes the insects go elsewhere.

The GateKeeper system, widely marketed in Israel, was installed in tomato, basil, and medical-marijuana greenhouses in beta sites in Israel and Spain, parallel to the independent study in Italy. All sites reported a reduction of over 80% in the use of conventional pesticides and in the incidence of plant viruses.

“We are delighted with GateKeeper’s results at various installations in Israel, Italy, and Spain,” said Kidron. “We are especially pleased that leading growers acquired the systems for a large number of greenhouses after observing the system’s efficiency in substantially reducing viruses while significantly reducing the use and heavy expense of pesticides.”