Checking in with the TFI Microbiological Laboratory Method Task Force

A Q&A with the Chair of the Task Force and BiOWiSH Director of R&D, John Gorsuch

The agricultural industry has witnessed remarkable technological advancements, which can be overwhelming for growers who are tasked with choosing the best management practices for their farm. One of the technologies available to them is microbial biostimulant technology. Although some products have shown outstanding trial results, skepticism about the presence of microbes in fertilizers will continue to be an issue unless companies can prove the ability to replicate those results consistently.

John Gorsuch, Director of R&D at BiOWiSH Technologies, recognizes this challenge. He has authored several articles with the aim of encouraging stakeholders to take significant steps in addressing farmers’ trust issues regarding microbial biostimulant products. Appointed by The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) on May 3, 2022, he was tasked with leading the TFI Microbiological Laboratory Method Task Force.  It has been almost two years since the task force was formed, so we wanted to catch up with John to discuss what the task force has been up to and what advances they have made in the industry.

Q: When was this task force first formed?

A: TFI announced the formation of the Task Force in March of 2022 following a presentation on microbiological methods for the evaluation of biostimulants and other biologically active products at the 2022 AAPFCO Methods Forum.

Q: Who makes up the task force?

A: The task force is comprised of microbiologists from various segments of the industry.

Q: What are the key objectives of The Fertilizer Institute’s Microbiological Laboratory Methods Task Force?

A: The task force was convened to support the TFI Certified Biostimulant program, and to help state regulators select appropriate laboratory methods for agronomic microbials by compiling  educational resources on the topic of microbiological methods for non-specialists, providing methodological guidance regarding testing regimens for microbial biostimulants, and to shepherd next-generation lab methods from the published literature into the ISO compendium, making them widely available to stakeholders around the world.

Q: What challenges does the task force aim to address in the agricultural industry?

A: Our goal is to improve the reputation of the microbial biostimulant industry by removing barriers to science-based industry stewardship. I don’t think anyone doubts that there are bad actors in the industry, but this may not always be the full story. In my role as Director of R&D at BiOWiSH, I have seen examples of laboratory method limitations causing bad quality control outcomes for products. The TFI task force’s goal is to bring appropriate levels of scientific rigor to the global microbial biostimulant market, eliminating these undesirable outcomes and supporting regulatory efforts as well as voluntary, industry-led certification programs such as the TFI Certified Biostimulant Program.

Q: What methods are used for testing?

A: A listing of many enumeration, contamination detection, and microbial identification methods useful for this purpose, as well as resources for understanding the applications and limitations of each, can be found in the TFI Handbook of Agriculture Microbiology, the task force’s first deliverable.  This handbook was unveiled at the recent AAPFCO Methods Forum. Email to access a copy of the handbook.

Q: Where can these evaluation methods be conducted?

A: Standard methods can be conducted at any microbiology laboratory that is properly certified and accredited; however, some of the methods require modification before they can be used for agronomic microbials. For example, sample preparation will be a bit different for a sample of cosmetics, a sample of food, or a sample of microbial-coated fertilizers. Until these modifications are accepted by ISO, it may be necessary to identify a laboratory with an R&D microbiology department that can run modified methods.

Q: What is the task force doing to help get these new methods on the books?

A: Luckily, TFI is involved with ISO efforts to strengthen available testing methods for fertilizers and soil conditioners. Recently, I was elected as Convener of TC-134 WG5, enhancing our efforts to establish a network of testing laboratories. As a first step, I’ll speaking at the upcoming AOAC Midyear Meeting in Gaithersburg, Maryland. 

Q: What is the current level of consumer confidence in microbial products that evaluated by TFI Microbiological laboratory task force?

A: Consumer confidence in agricultural microbial products is improving, but there is still work to be done. Any other time consumers buy a living thing − whether it’s plants, livestock, pets, or fishing bait − they can see firsthand that they are getting the right species and quality in the agreed quantity. That’s tougher to do for microbials since they can’t be visually inspected. Consumers need resources to help bridge this gap.

Q: What strategies are implemented to maintain and enhance consumer confidence in microbial products?

A: The TFI Certified Biostimulant Program is a voluntary, industry-led program intended to certify the composition of microbial products through a customer facing seal of approval. A consumer might have read negative press about biologicals, and almost certainly cannot evaluate microbial composition on their own, but if they see the TFI Certified Biostimulant seal on the package, they know that the manufacturer has voluntarily gone the extra mile to provide scientific data in support of their label claims. The hope is that this will build trust in the industry and result in enhanced consumer confidence.

Q: Did BiOWiSH apply for certification? If so, where do we stand?

A: Yes, BiOWiSH® Crop Liquid was among the first five applicants for the TFI Certified Biostimulant Program. This is a new process, so it may take some time for the first crop of applicants to be approved.

Q: What advice would you give consumers considering agricultural biostimulants?

A: I believe in the technology, and I have seen firsthand the success that customers are experiencing with BiOWiSH® bio-enhanced fertilizer technology. This is the driving factor behind the task force because we all want consumers to feel this same level of confidence.  Look for a reputable supplier that you can trust – one with independent data and research to back up their claims. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.

During this session, John also emphasizes that TFI is always seeking more experts to join the Task Force. The goal is to widely expand perspective of biological testing applications, rebuilding consumer trust and ensuring product claims accurately reflect their contents. Those interested in participating are encouraged to reach out to John Gorsuch at

In addition to the work we are doing with TFI in the United States, BiOWiSH Technologies is promoting this quality standard in other agriculturally-strong countries, as well. The work is based on several years of R&D by BiOWiSH.