Biologicals Benefit from Scientific Advancements

- Molly Cadle-Davidson

Since the introduction of biologicals, the industry has witnessed tremendous advancements with one of the major contributors being the use of increased intelligence and intensity when it comes to strain selection.

Previously, wild strains were commercialized with little emphasis on refinement. At that time, the overall scientific knowledge about these strains and their potential was relatively unknown; however, today we have many more tools at our disposal. This enables a much greater understanding of biologicals and their capacity for improving plant performance as well as some of the potential pitfalls, such as inconsistent performance. Taking this into account, companies have stepped up their selection procedures. Today’s products are more consistent and target specific plant performance traits, such as drought resistance or a pathogen resistance.

Several companies market biological products, containing different types of organisms, for agricultural crops. The largest group of biological products are Rhizobium and Bradyrhizobium inoculants for legume crops such as soybeans. Bacillus-containing products are also becoming more common. ABM has several products, all of which are multi-strain, containing Trichoderma, Bacillus and/or Rhizobia. These products are targeted for all the major crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans and cotton. ABM also provides inoculants for leguminous cover crops, and the company is in the process of developing a rice product.

Customer expectations are high in today’s marketplace. One critical component is ease-of-use and low application rates, especially with products applied directly to the seed. There isn’t much real estate available for additional seed inputs like biologicals, so these products need to provide a lot of bang for the buck. Customers who purchase biologicals are banking on technologies that are relatively new to the market and with which they might have little personal experience. For these reasons there needs to be solid, scientific evidence to back up claims made by companies producing biological products. Independent, third-party data is always viewed more favorably than internal company data.

Agriculture is changing in many ways including the available chemistries, consumer expectations, regulatory environment (restrictions on the use of nitrogen, formulants and pesticides), and the availability of biologicals. Overall, customer satisfaction with biological products has been quite high; if a biological product can solve a particular problem or provide an increased return on investment, then it is deemed a valuable tool in the customer’s toolbox.  This integration reflects our deeper understanding of the importance of the microbial world to crop health and productivity and the translation of this science to the field is an essential aspect making agriculture adaptable to our changing world.