Biologicals are products developed to work in concert with and in place of agricultural chemicals. The three main areas of biological development are biopesticides, biostimulants and biofertilizers.
On June 29, the Farm Foundation presented a forum on these products.
The first speaker was Mark Trimmer, managing partner of DunhamTrimmer LLC, which provides market research, development and consulting on biological products.
The 14.4% annual growth of the biological products market, Trimmer said, is two to three times faster than the growth in traditional markets.
Favorable government policy in the U.S. reflects the significance of this innovation and includes the addition of a biopesticide division at the Environmental Protection Agency.
This division has established guidelines for low-toxicity, environmentally friendly biological products.
In the fresh fruit and vegetable markets, the demand for ecologically sound ag products has been huge, Trimmer said.
In addition, because consumers want their fruits and vegetables all year long, biostimulants can help plants avoid stress and enhance production.
Trimmer said there are five growth areas for the industry: microbial, peptide-based technology, pheromone synthesis, formulation and production, and biofertilizers.
He predicts that these products will become more popular in row crops and for carbon sequestration and nitrogen fixation.
Bayer microbial scientist Laura Lampa reviewed the corporation’s work in this arena.
Lampa said Bayer has determined that 40 to 70% of crops received some biological product to control insects, weeds or disease. And most of the usage is combined with chemical treatments.
Bayer has developed a number of biological products, Lampa said, including Serenade, which uses biological components to activate a plant’s own defense mechanisms to improve root growth and nutrient intake. The product also protects roots with a biofilm.
Karsten Temme, co-founder and CEO of Pivot Bio, is developing ways to enhance a plant’s ability to absorb and use nitrogen — to “self-fertilize.”
Temme said there are drawbacks to fertilizing with inorganic nitrogen, and the alternative — microbes — can live and grow in plants and then absorb nitrogen from the air, providing it to the plants on demand.
Biologicals can improve farming operations even when chemistry cannot, Temme said.
The biggest barriers to farmers adopting biologicals, Temme said, are that farmers don’t know the products are availability and don’t know how effective they are.
“The industry must get the word out,” he said.
University of Minnesota Extension says that biostimulants are often ineffective and recommends farmers conduct a replicated trial before making the products a major part of their operations.