Blog Series Part 1 of 3: Understanding Ag Microbials
Growers are constantly navigating how to respond to the increasing pressures of present-day farming, like high inputs and other rising costs, erosion or soil degradation, increasing environmental regulation, extreme weather events and changing consumer demands. Data supported technologies that provide performance advantages over their current management practices catch growers attention. That’s why more and more growers are looking to stable and statistically validated microbial products, or biologicals, as the data supporting better plant and soil health, better nutrient uptake and stress tolerance, and overall yield enhancements continues to grow.
Despite the appeal of these natural solutions, the agricultural microbial space can be difficult to navigate. Not all agronomic microbial solutions are created equally. While that’s a simple enough statement to understand, it’s a little more complicated to fully explain the differences between products. For that reason, we’ve broken down the subject into a three-part blog series to help guide growers on what to consider when selecting a microbial product for their farm.
Growers must first ask themselves a few key questions in order to choose the right microbial product for their application: 1) Which job do I want the microbial to do for my crops? 2) Does the product being considered have sufficient data to support its efficacy? 3) How easy will it be for me to use? 4) How do I know that it contains what it claims to contain on the label? In this post, we’ll talk about the types of agronomic microbials and how they work. In part-two, we’ll discuss the handling and management differences, and in part-three, we’ll share our advice on how to determine if you’re getting a quality ag microbial.
Types of Ag Microbial Products and How They Work
The first question to consider is: “Which job do I want a microbial product to do for my crops?” Microbial products are formulations of living microorganisms selected by their manufacturers to do specific jobs which benefit the plant. Many of these “modes of action” are familiar: fixing nitrogen, solubilizing phosphorous or other soil nutrients, producing growth-promoting compounds, or eliminating pathogens and other undesirables. Often, the goal of applying these types of biological formulations is to introduce the selected “good” bacteria into the grower’s soil in the hopes that they take up residence there to the benefit of crop and grower alike.
It makes sense: if crops need more nitrogen, you can add a nitrogen fixing-microbe to the soil to get the job done. However, this approach has a few limitations. Each grower’s soil is different, both in terms of physical and chemical properties, and in terms of the native microorganisms which already call the soil home. The selected microorganisms in a biological product are generally not native to the grower’s specific soil. If they don’t fare well in their new home, or if they can’t compete with the millions of native microbes that populate each gram of the grower’s soil, they may not live long enough to deliver their benefits. This can lead to inconsistent product performance and frustration with biologicals in general.
There is another option available to growers, one which takes a different approach to solving the challenge of achieving consistent performance while still protecting the grower’s bottom line. Agronomic biologicals are not the only source of good bacteria available to a grower. Good bacteria are everywhere, including in the native populations of microbes already present in a grower’s soil. Plants have evolved alongside these microbes and have over time, perfected natural processes for “calling in” and cultivating populations of beneficial microbes in their root zones. The plant feeds these microbes with root exudates, and in exchange, the good microbes perform a variety of useful jobs for the plant.
Rather than trying to inoculate the grower’s soil with non-native good bacteria, BiOWiSH’s proprietary HoloGene 3™ technology supplies microbes to the plant, which support the plant’s expression of these natural processes and stimulate the plant’s ability to nurture a “garden” of native, beneficial microbes in the root zone. This high-performance partnership between the plant and the BiOWiSH® microorganisms is referred to as a holobiont, and the field of study that considers host-microbe partnerships as distinct functional units is called hologenomics. This is a new way to view and support plant health. It encourages the plant’s expression of traits, allowing it to make the most of its environment, as well as use its natural ability to tend its own garden of native beneficial microbes in the root zone. This cycle of positive shifts drives specific benefits to the plant, the soil and the soil microbiome.
In our view, stimulating the existing native microbes to support the plant and all its developmental functions is the more effective and preferred approach over introducing large numbers of non-native microbes to the soil. But you don’t have to just take our word for it; check out our performance results here. Even if a grower does choose to introduce non-native beneficial microbes to their soil, BiOWiSH HoloGene 3™ technology can support the plant’s natural ability to nourish these microbes along with their native counterparts.
Selecting the correct type of microbial is only the first step. The next post, part-two, is about considerations for Flexibility and Ease of Use. Not only will we address grower’s practical concerns for application, but we’ll also examine Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizers (EEF) and a new classification of EEF that improves the effectiveness of nutrient applications.
Director of R&D
BiOWISH Technologies Inc.
Cincinnati, Ohio 45208 USA