Gordon Sargent Regulatory Manager, Nufarm Americas

Plant biostimulants (PBS’s) are increasingly gaining recognition as valuable inputs to enhance crop production. Informally, PBS’s are thought of as microbes or substances for the purpose of stimulating natural processes in plants or in the soil. They are often used in order to, among other things, help plants tolerate abiotic stress and/or improve the physical, chemical, and/or biological characteristics of the soil as a medium for plant growth. Historically, there has been significant ambiguity regarding the difference between biostimulants and biopesticides/plant regulators. This ambiguity has been particularly difficult for state regulators to manage. However, help is on its way.

After years of work by trade associations, such as the Biological Products Industry Alliance (BPIA) and the Biostimulant Coalition working with government agencies (EPA, USDA), a definition was finally approved in the Farm Bill that was passed in December. 

PBS’s are defined as follows:

a substance or micro-organism that, when applied to seeds, plants, or the rhizosphere, stimulates natural processes to enhance or benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, or crop quality and yield.

Additionally, the Farm Bill includes a mandate for USDA to submit a report to the President and Congress that “…identifies potential regulatory and legislative reforms to ensure the expeditious and appropriate review, approval, uniform national labeling, and availability of plant biostimulant products to agricultural producers.” 

The European Biostimulants Industry Council has a similar definition of PBS’s. This alignment of definition by two large global agricultural bodies has paved the way for the continued advancement of these products.

In addition to clarification provided by an established definition, the EPA has recently released for comment, their Draft Guidance for Plant Regulators including Plant Biostimulants. The document provides examples of product label claims that are considered to be Plant Growth Regulator claims that trigger the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act(FIFRA) regulation, and other claims that are not (for example, plant nutrition-based claims). 

All these recent efforts are continuing the expansion of biostimulants acceptance and use in the marketplace.