Soil School: Navigating the burgeoning biological market

The biological market in agriculture is growing exponentially, as many companies are investing in development and introducing products that contain bacteria or fungi that are supposed to provide a significant benefit to a farmer’s crop or soil.

It’s up to farmers and their agronomists and retailers to not only determine whether a biological product works as claimed, but even more important, whether there’s a return on investment to adding the microbiology.

This Soil School episode focuses on navigating the expanding biological market, featuring Matt Sowder and Dion Pearce of Mosaic Biosciences, who joined Mosaic with the company’s acquisition of biological developer Plant Response in 2022.

“It’s really tough for growers and retailers today to navigate through all the number of biologic companies are starting to hit the market,” notes Pearce, urging farmers to ask tough questions of company’s selling biologicals. “One I would really focus on — is their data and their information science-based? Is it considered applied science in the field? Do they have more than one year of data? Do they have numerous data points, not just one farm?”

Check out the episode below for more on navigating the market for biological crop inputs (article continues below):

Questions about shelf life, crop and product compatibility, the logistics at the farm and in the field, and whether the manufacturing process produces a consistent product are also important things to ask, they say.

As with any new practice, Sowder recommends setting up trials with untreated check areas to compare outcomes.

“There have been some claims in the marketplace that seem pretty fantastic. If it’s too good to be true, you really want to go back and check the science, but I think the big issue is, if you’re going to set up a trial side by side, make sure you’re not using other biologicals in the untreated check area, try and make sure you get a read on what it actually does,” says Sowder.

“In addition to that, you’re going to need to make sure you’re calibrated so that you can pick up small differences,” he continues. “Most of the time, in live microbe populations, you see less than 5 per cent, oftentimes in the 2 per cent range of yield advantage. But if you can do that consistently for the right economic value, then it is still a benefit.”

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