“No longer a ‘fringe’ solution, agricultural biologicals are complementing and replacing traditional fertilizers and chemicals, and helping lower the industry’s environment impact,” stated the agenda of the Ag Innovation Showcase held this past fall in St. Louis.
The statement set the stage for a panel discussion on the subject of biologicals – products that are increasingly being used in the quest to produce enough food for 9 billion people by 2050. The discussion features perspectives from Mike McFatrich, vice-president for strategy and business development of NewLeaf Symbiotics. The company is based at the Bio Research and Development Growth Park on the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center campus in St. Louis; its management team includes professionals whose careers have included years of experience with traditional crop protection companies such as Monsanto, BASF and Bayer.
NewLeaf Symbiotics is working with a broad group of methylotrophic bacteria, developing an assemblage within that group called Pink-Pigmented Facultative Methylotrophic – or PPFM – bacteria. The bacteria will be used to develop products that can help protect plant health when used either alone or in combination with conventional chemistries. The bacteria are ubiquitous in the environment, commonly found on and in plants.
The company is focused on incorporating the bacteria into seed treatments, and as in-furrow and foliar spray applications for corn, soybeans, leafy vegetables and tomatoes. Researchers also are evaluating the use of the bacteria in spring wheat.
“We are also working opportunistically on peanut and canola,” McFatrich said.
NewLeaf Symbiotics is testing the bacteria with active ingredients in crop-protection products as well as alone to mitigate plant diseases and insects, and manage environmental stresses. In tests, NewLeaf Symbiotics has shown that the bacteria can mitigate certain foliar diseases.
NewLeaf Symbiotics is introducing this year two products to improve nutrient uptake and efficiency in soybeans and peanuts. It expects to introduce a biofungicide and a plant-growth regulator in the wheat and soybean markets during the next few years.
“We’re moving from curative to preventative treatments,” McFatrich said of the overall growth in the market of biologicals.
By discovering complementary combinations of biologicals and traditional chemistries, the industry can help to preserve the efficacy of conventional products that help maintain performance and reduce application rates of those conventional products.
“We want to do more with less,” McFatrich said. “When thinking about producing enough food for 9 billion people with a shrinking land base, we want to do what we can to preserve crop-protection tools and make them more efficient.”
Some farmers are skeptical about biologicals. In the past, there have been issues with consistent performance with the stability of biological products in certain environments and certain years. But today biologicals are more rigorously tested in laboratories and fields for their compatibility with traditional chemistries, as well as stability of performance in the field and shelf life, McFatrich said.
“We’re also finding which biologicals are a better fit with certain crops,” he said.