Trichoderma and the Biologicals Renaissance: Creative New Ways to Think About the Usual Suspects

- Molly Cadle-Davidson

The biologicals industry has had to continually reinvent itself. An early history of variable performance cemented the dogmatic thinking that assumes biologicals will never be able to compete with ag chemistry. In the past 15 years, science supporting the use of microbials – and Trichoderma in particular – has moved beyond the concepts of mycoparasitism and niche replacement/competition as the dominant mechanisms acting in the field. It is now quite clear that in most cases signaling between microbes and plants plays the bigger role in biostimulation and biocontrol phenotypes.

A Vital Shift is Thinking

We are currently experiencing another scientific revelation: the importance of the phytobiome. The phytobiome is all the microbes present in, on and around a plant. These microbes impact plant performance and health in the same way the human microbiome impacts human health and well-being. Just as with the human microbiome, study of the phytobiome is moving beyond the simple description of what organisms are present. We are learning more and more about what those organisms are doing. This is a vital shift in our thinking and research.

We have historically thought of the plant as an independent organism. Seeds are planted into the soil and they produce our food and fibers. Yes, microbes can interact, but this is mostly to enable nodulation or to cause disease. And we have nutrients and chemicals that can address these issues. Today, we understand that microbes present on and in the seed, in the soil and water, and in the air, all interact with and are an essential part of the plants we raise. Without them, plants are sickly and unable to defend themselves against much of anything.

Thinking about the future of agriculture in the phytobiome context, we need to consider not only which microbes are present in a given environment but also what they are doing both individually as well as the overall functioning of their local community. Many factors come into play in this context including soil type/chemistry, host species and genotype, management practices, weather and local livestock or wildlife among a myriad of others. In the long term, these interactions will be teased apart and more thoroughly understood. ABM and many other public and private organizations are taking active roles to ensure this future and bring the results to actual practices and products in the field.