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Microbials - Entomopathogenic Nematode Commercial Products

An Analysis of the Commercial Entomopathogenic Nematode Product

When developing an EPN product for use against a pest it is important to carry out an initial ‘SWOT’ analysis to determine the project feasibility. In this type of analysis commercial and scientific factors should be sorted into four categories either as a ‘STRENGTH’, ‘WEAKNESS’, ‘OPPORTUNITY’, or a ‘THREAT’. Any factor that might affect the product development should be stated, this could include a range of information from facts supported by data packages to comments or feedback from customers. Every step of the product development should be considered, from the insect life cycle and the growing systems, to the method of delivering the product to the customer. The following example of ‘SWOT’ analysis uses general information. But in practise every effort should be made to support each point with any available information.

Product Strengths

These may be:

  1. Consistent supply available; Supply will be consistent when sales forecasts are accurate and production levels are predictable. Most EPN species can be produced on a large scale, up to a capacity of 80,000 litre fermenters, at a concentration of 150,000 infective juveniles per millilitre.
  2. Agreements with good distributors; Sales forecasts based on a good knowledge of the market rather than guess work reduce the risk of product introduction. When a new product is introduced it can be tempting for sales managers to make conservative sales forecasts. If the end of year sales are significantly greater than initial forecasts the sales manager will have obviously been very successful. However, the situation may arise where the sales forecast is so low that product production cannot be increased to satisfy customer demand. This causes frustration and creates a poor reputation with the customer.
  3. Product formulation; Products may have a shelf life at room temperature. This provides more flexibility in the distribution system. For example, a product shelf life at room temperature makes it easier to deliver and store the product in a warm climate, or the distributor could reduce costs by taking more product at one delivery and risk a temporary reduction in sales. Conversely, if the growers have cold storage facilities, as in the mushroom market, a sophisticated formulation may not be required, reducing development costs.
  4. The product is safe and ‘natural’; Comprehensive data packages have been developed to support the safety claims made about EPN products. Workers benefit from not having to wear protective clothing during product application. Studies have also shown that EPN applications do not have a significant impact on non target insects (Georgis et al 1991).
  5. Products do not require registration; Registration regulations vary from country to country and have not been standardized in Europe. In most countries EPN’s are regarded as animals and are exempt from pesticide regulations. This means that once efficacy data has been generated, products can be introduced. The commercial advantage of this is that product sales can begin at least three years faster than conventional products.
  6. Products are easy to use; No additional equipment is required to apply EPN products, instructions have been designed to be similar to conventional pesticides making their use familiar to growers.
Product Weaknesses

These may include:

  1. The insect life cycle; The susceptible stage of the insect life cycle may be in an inaccessible niche, or in a niche unsuitable for EPN survival. For example, excessively wet soil or foliage.
  2. Insect behaviour; Insect behaviour or physiology may reduce EPN product efficacy. Gaugler (1988) suggested that the tendency of quiescent soil insects, especially pupae, to release carbon dioxide in bursts rather than continuously reduced the ability of infective juveniles to follow a chemical gradient to the host. Koeler et al (1992) reported that when exposed to infective juveniles of Steinernema carpocapsae Weiser (All strain) American cockroaches, Peripaneta americana (L), actively groomed nematodes from legs and antennae to prevent infection.
  3. Efficacy may be limited at hot and cold temperature; For example, control of black vine weevil Otiorhynchus sulcatus (F.) larvae in blackcurrant crops by Steinernema carpocapsae was limited at temperatures below 15 °C (Sampson 1994).
  4. EPN products must be applied to moist soil; EPN’s can survive dry conditions (Womersley 1990) but cannot search for and locate the insect host.
Product Opportunities

These may include:

  1. The market value; It is important that the market supports growing sales of the newly introduced product at a price that immediately provides a return on the investment of the initial product development.
  2. No chemical available / phytotoxic effects/ chemical not effective; For example, in American cranberry crops no conventional chemical is available to control the Cranberry Girdler Chrysoteuchia topiaria, or strawberry root weevil Otiorhynchus ovatus (L). Growers were limited to using cultural methods to prevent pest damage (Simser & Roberts 1994) until an EPN product was developed. In mushroom crops application of insecticides reduced yields (Grewal et al 1992).
  3. EPN searching behaviour; In field grown crops it is particularly difficult to apply insecticides at the point where the pest is causing damage. In strawberry plants grown under plastic access to the roots where black vine weevil larvae cause damage can be difficult. However, by applying EPN’s through T-Tape irrigation systems infective juveniles introduced below the soil surface can search for and infect larvae developing in the strawberry roots (Kakouli et al 1994).
  4. Knowledge of the pest life cycle; Expert knowledge obtained from universities and Extension services can be used to determine the correct time for product application. It is important that the insect biology is understood to prevent ‘mysterious’ product failures.
Product Threats

These may include:

  1. Grower confidence; Any change in the product can cause problems with grower confidence. Even a change in the colour of the product container can cause suspicions that something is not quite right with the production system.
  2. Product education; In the initial stages of product introduction distributor and grower education is vital. If the growers misuse the product and observe damaged crops it is unlikely that they will continue to take risks on a ‘new’ idea. It is easy for a poor reputation to build up and almost impossible to recover confidence in the market.
  3. Competitive conventional insecticides; The development of new conventional chemicals may address application problems, for example slow release formulations.

The SWOT analysis is a useful method of analysing information that is both qualitative and quantitative. It is possible for the manager to give weight the importance of factors based on actual data or on rumours from the market place. If the weaknesses and threats out-weigh the strengths and opportunities it may be concluded that the development of an EPN product against a specific insect pest is unsuitable. However, a detailed analysis of the introduction of an EPN product into a specific crop or growing system can help to highlight further areas of research necessary. During the product development process it is important to maintain the analysis so that if threats become too great further investment may be reduced, or if additional opportunities become available investments can be increased.


Gaugler, R. (1988). Ecological considerations in the biological control of soil-inhabiting insects with entomopathogenic nematodes. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment .

Georgis, R., Kaya, H.K., and Gaugler, R. (1991). Effect of steinernematid and heterorhabditid nematodes (Rhabditida: Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae) on non target arthropods. Environ. Entomol. 20:815-822.

Grewal, P.S., Richardson, P.N., Collins, G. and Edmondson, R.N. (1992). Comparative effects of Steinernema feltiae (Nematoda: Steinernematidae) and insecticides on yield and cropping of the mushroom Agaricus bisporus. Ann. Appl. Biol. 1.

Kakouli, T., Schirocki, A. and Hague, N.G.M. (1994). Control of black vine weevil in strawberries with entomopathogenic nematodes. Proceedings of the BCPC Pest and Disease.

Koehler, P.G., Patterson, R.S., and Martin, W.R. (1992). Susceptibility of cockroaches (Dictyoptera: Blattellidae, Blattidae) to infection by Steinernema carpocapsae. J. Econ. Entomol. 85(4):1184-1187.

Sampson, A.C. (1994). Control of Otiorhynchus sulcatus in soft fruit using drench treatments of Steinernema carpocapsae. Proceedings of the BCPC Pest and Disease 601-608.

Simser, D., and Roberts, S., (1994). Suppression of strawberry root weevil, Otiorhynchus ovatus, in cranberries by entomopathogenic nematodes (Nematoda: Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae). Nematologica .

Womersley, C.Z. (1990). Dehydration survival and anhydrobiotic potential. Entomopathogenic nematodes in biological control. Ed R. Gaugler & H.K. Kaya p 117-137.