The Biologicals Paradox

- Molly Cadle-Davidson

The most remarkable aspect about biological products is that they are living organisms, and the most challenging aspect about biological products is that they are living organisms.

Handling a living organism, such as a microbe, when treating seed is much different from handling a chemical seed treatment product. Of the many factors driving biological product development, how the organism is formulated and subsequently handled are among the most significant.

In an ideal world, users would like to mix biologicals with the chemicals that are designed to kill them and have everything turn out okay. Yet, it’s not necessarily the active ingredients in chemical products that kill the microbes and wreak the most havoc, but the inactive ones, such as detergents. That soap you wash your hands with? You do that to kill germs (microbes) on your hands. A major formulation target is advanced formulations that can protect biologicals from the harsh actives as well as inactives.

Beyond survival in the jug or tank, biologicals can be subjected to massive shearing forces in seed treaters. Mechanical equipment that works well to disperse chemicals and provide for even coverage can really damage microbial cell walls and membranes. The good news is that many seed treaters now have secondary tanks and ports specifically for the application of biologicals such that they do not experience the atomizers or spinning discs that are used for other inputs.

These are just two factors ABM and other developers need to consider. I believe today’s biological products must fit into current and future seed treatment systems and agricultural practices—they must be fully integrated into both conventional and organic agriculture. The good news is that as an industry we are getting closer every day to overcoming the weaknesses of the biological organism in our pursuit of their potential for exceptional agricultural benefit.