Worm-killer set to save crops worldwide

Nematodes that plague dozens of fruits and vegetables may have met their match with Adama’s Nimitz

An untreated bell pepper on the left compared to a Nimitz-treated plant on the right. (ADAMA)
An untreated bell pepper on the left compared to a Nimitz-treated plant on the right. (ADAMA)

More than one out of every ten tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, okra plants, potatoes, and many more species never make it out of the field – completely destroyed by nematodes, also known as ringworms. And much of the rest of an infected crop is too damaged to sell.

These bugs have been the bane of farmers around the world, but a new solution from Adama Agricultural Solutions (formerly Makhteshim-Agan Industries Ltd) could end their reign of agri-terror. Nimitz, Adama’s brand name for a nematicide (nematode killer) based on a newly-discovered molecule called fluensulfone, will get rid of the most common nematodes without the use of heavy chemicals that have been the mainstay of nematicides, the company says.

Adama said Nimitz has the potential to be a game changer for farmers, as well as for the company. Nimitz, it said, is “expected to be a significant growth driver for the company in the future.”

Adama said that studies conducted over the past six years in 21 countries prove its product, the first new nematicide introduced anywhere in the past 20 years, is less hazardous to the environment than other solution. Israel, Australia, Europe, and many US states have approved Nimitz for use in commercial growing settings.

The US Environmental Protection Agency approved Nimitz last September, saying that while you wouldn’t want to expose children and the elderly to the product for an extended period of time, there were no carcinogenic or other negative effects from Nimitz.

Most of the product, the company said, will be manufactured at its new manufacturing facility in Neot Hovav in southern Israel.

Unlike insects, nematodes – of which scientists believe there are over 1 million types, 25,000 of them known – are often invisible to the naked eye, making it difficult for farmers to know that they have even been attacked until it is too late. Nematodes are parasites that live off the fruits and vegetables humans rely on for food. Last year, they caused growers an estimated annual yield loss of more than $100 billion worldwide. Tests show that Nimitz can improve crop yields by as much as 30%, and the company expects that figure to rise as the product is further developed.

Fluensulfone, Nimitz’s “secret sauce,” was discovered by Japanese researchers in 2006, and Adama, then Makhteshim Agam, began developing it for commercial use. According to the EPA, fluensulfone is a “non-fumigant nematicide that provides lower-risk chemical control of nematodes than methyl bromide,” the main ingredient in other nematicides. Under international agreements, the US is committed to phasing out the use of methyl bromide because of damage it causes to the ozone layer.

Unlike nematicides currently in use, which can do no more than freeze the behavior of the bugs while they are exposed to the chemicals, Nimitz actually kills them, the EPA found. It also is quickly washed away by rain or irrigation when its job is done, and is nontoxic to food and water ecosystems. Within 1 hour of contact, target nematodes cease feeding and quickly become paralyzed, dying altogether within 24-72 hours of application. And it affects only nematodes, with no effect on plants, animals, or other organisms in an environment.

Nematodes, it appears, are simply “allergic” to the chemicals in fluensulfone. A 2014 study in the journal Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology said that “fluensulfone has pleiotropic actions and inhibits development, egg-laying, egg-hatching, feeding and locomotion. In the case of feeding and locomotion, an early excitation precedes the gross inhibition.” The chemical, according to the study, essentially causes worms to starve themselves to death, triggering an internal mechanism that makes them eschew food.

“Precisely how fluensulfone exerts its effects, and importantly how it achieves its selective toxicity, remains to be determined,” the report says – but it does the job, and for farmers that is very good news, said Danny Karmon, Senior Innovative Product Manager for Adama and Nimtz Project Manager.

“Over many years of intensive development and testing, whether in the lab, in greenhouses, field trials or semi-commercial trials, Nimitz has consistently shown that it is a better nematicide than other commercially available products.” Nimitz, he added, “combines simplicity of use together with increased efficacy in an economical solution to a major global pest for farmers.”

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