Emerging Biologicals Could Help No-Tillers Get More With Less

Bio-ag products are outgrowing their “snake oil” reputation and could bring higher yields at a lower environmental price.

For no-tillers already saving topsoil, reducing fuel usage and controlling input costs, the emerging market of biological products could offer another way to ratchet yields even higher without paying an environmental price.

But are these products a real solution — or a solution in search of a problem?

Whether it’s increasing yields, mitigating stress, improving soil fertility or warding off insects and disease, it appears biologicals are coming of age after developing a “snake oil” reputation years ago.

Research results on these products paint a conflicting picture, yet Monsanto, Bayer CropScience and BASF are going all in, buying up smaller bio-ag innovators to build their own platforms for biologicals.

Established companies like Novozymes, Stoller USA and Agricen also see growing demand.

“Twenty-five years ago, biologicals were a side note with many unanswered questions, but now the market is growing and becoming mainstream, with over half of the world’s soybeans using biologicals,” says Cathy Soanes, Novozymes BioAg group’s customer solution manager for North America and a former agronomist.

“I think farmers now realize that when you invest so much money in seed and traits, it pays to use a biological to help ensure your crop gets off to the best start possible.”

Defining ‘Bio Ag’

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While the ag-biologicals market can be tough to define, it generally means products derived from biological or natural sources — rather than being synthetically sourced — produce a desired response in plants or soil when applied in small amounts.

The range of products can include insecticides…

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John-dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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