Essential Oil-Based Organic Pesticide Coming to Your Produce Aisle Soon

spraying tomatoes with organic pesticides

A newcomer to the realm of organic pesticides is currently undergoing testing for EPA approval in California’s Salinas Valley. The pesticide, called NMX, was developed by New Mexico State University microbiologist Geoffrey Smith and his team from a mixture of essential oils from common desert plants.

The pesticide was designed to kill off bacterial and fungal infections, but NMX will also be tested for its effectiveness against insects, particularly thrips.

The developers of the product say that if the tests are successful, the product could be marketed to organic growers, particularly those of leafy green vegetables, as early as June 2016.

“There are very few effective organic fungicides, especially for leafy produce like lettuce and spinach,” Luke Smith, head of EcoSeal, the company working to market NMX, told Albuquerque Journal. “That’s a big problem in the Salinas Valley, where leafy vegetables account for about 50 percent of all crops. Growers there are losing up to 70 percent of their produce because they have no effective fungicides.”

Leafy greens are frequent fliers on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, with spinach ranking 8th on the 2016 list. Lettuce ranked 17th and kale and collard greens 18th out of a total of 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue.

While individual components of the new organic pesticide had been used before, the combination of several components produced a surprising synergistic effect, according to Geoffrey Smith.

“We expected the pure chemical in essential oil would water down its effect, but we found that the natural oil was more potent than using refined active ingredients,” he said.

The product has already been tested in laboratory, greenhouse, and field trials in the U.S. and Mexico; these tests showed that while NMX performed similarly to other products currently on the market for pest control, it boasted far superior performance as a fungicide, rivaling even synthetic pesticides on the market.

“The NMX product line is based on the idea that nature provides its own solution to many problems that are currently being solved through synthetic means that are harmful to the environment,” Luke Smith told a reporter from New Mexico State University.

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Spraying tomato plant image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.