Fight against oak processionary moth, corn rootworm & Co.

Market leader E-Nema combats pests in the forest, in the field and in the garden with tiny nematodes. They are said to be as effective as chemical agents.

The very hungry caterpillar of the dreaded oak processionary moth

Ein golf course in northern Germany. The sun is shining, a lake glistens bluish. A perfect picture, but on closer inspection you will notice bald spots in the lawn. The larvae of the garden beetle are responsible for them. They eat the roots of the lawn.

Chemical agents do not help, because the grubs get used to such insecticides, as Tillmann Frank explains, managing director of the E-Nema Society for Biotechnology and Biological Plant Protection Ltd. from Schwentinental in Schleswig-Holstein. One solution is a biological pesticide made from tiny nematodes.

These roundworms – insect pathogenic nematodes – have been manufactured by E-Nema since 1997. Large-scale production facilities such as bioreactors with capacities of up to 60,000 liters are available. According to Frank, the vertical range of manufacture is therefore very high, so that the company only depends on a few partner companies.

You have to spread them out often

With a global market share of 40 percent, it claims to be the world market leader. In 2019, E-Nema sold 9,000 hectares of nematodes, which, according to sales manager Jan Burmeister, corresponds to 45 trillion nematodes.

In the home and garden sector, nematodes cost the end consumer 20.12 euros net per 50 million nematodes, according to Burmeister. Frank states the annual turnover is almost 10 million euros. Almost half is generated by the production of insect pathogenic nematodes for two main customer groups. 10 percent of total sales are generated with the hobby area. About 40 percent is achieved by selling to professional customers.

One of them is Heiko Tock, senior greenkeeper at the Großensee Golf Club. He has been using the nematodes successfully against grubs for several years. Before that, the golf course had long problems with the garden leaf beetle. However, you often have to apply the nematode, as they only develop their full effect in liquid and this is difficult in particularly dry years, explains Tock. In the professional area, the clientele is very international, says Frank. The company’s export share is 80 percent. The EU countries and the USA each made up 35 percent.

Sales increased sharply

Another half of the total turnover is generated by the production of biological pesticides for other companies that do not have the same production facilities as E-Nema. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi are produced for this area. Last but not least, the company creates substances using bacteria that are used in cosmetic products such as self-tanners.

According to Frank, sales rose sharply last year. On the one hand, this comes from the fact that people “storm into the gardens” in lockdown. On the other hand, there is a growing awareness of health, especially in the USA; people no longer wanted to absorb chemicals through food.

According to Frank, who is also the chairman of the industry association for biological pesticides in Germany and Austria, the share of biological pesticides in the total world market is around 4 percent. The goal is 10 to 20 percent, which can be achieved because of the increasing legal restrictions on chemical insecticides.

Safe for other animals

The environment is being poisoned by conventional insecticides; this was illustrated by the death of bees, for example. Annette Herz, head of the department for beneficial insects at the Julius Kühn Institute for Biological Plant Protection, says: “Sustainable agriculture must become more ecological.” For this, biological processes come first due to the good environmental balance.

August Jost, farmer and customer of E-Nema from Styria in Austria, also uses the nematodes. “Protecting soil life” is very important to him, which is why he uses roundworms on his corn fields. He uses “Dianem”. The remedy is safe for other animals such as bees, but defeats the corn rootworm. This caused considerable loss of earnings; since the worms were used, these have only been minimal.

Jost became aware of the nematodes through an experiment by the Styrian Chamber of Agriculture in 2013. There chemical agents were compared with the nematodes. Although these looked a bit worse at the time, the farmer saw more potential in the roundworms in the long run; Environmental protection was very important to him even then.

As effective as chemistry

According to Jost, the effect of the nematodes was improved by further experiments; they are currently equivalent to chemical products. In 2014 Jost took over the distribution of E-Nema nematodes in Styria. One disadvantage, however, is that it is more complicated to bring out nematodes. According to Frank, E-Nema wants to sell more products, especially in the agricultural sector. It is not that financially productive. But because of the large areas, the contribution to environmental protection is particularly large.

The roundworms are so small that there would be 250,000 to 300,000 in a liquid solution in a coffee cream capsule. Around 5 billion nematodes are needed for one hectare of lawn. According to Frank, the roundworms have a great future because, unlike chemicals, they are also harmless to the person who spreads them. The liquid form of the nematodes only poses a danger to those insects for which the product is intended. In addition, there would be no fumes that could lead to major health problems, especially in greenhouses.

The article comes from the school project “Youth and Economy”, which the FAZ organizes together with the Association of German Banks.