Not long ago, Matt Powe, technical services manager for Indigo Ag, was skeptical about biologicals.
"I've been an agronomist for 25 years now, and in talking with growers, I've heard about the biological seed salesman who has that bug in a jug that's going to make your worst field the most productive field on your farm," Powe says. "When I came to Indigo 5 years ago, I learned that things have changed considerably, and we've made some drastic improvements in the last 5-7 years in understanding how biologicals work within the plant, the interactions we see with them, and the delivery and performance of those products on seed once we get them to the field."
Powe says biologicals are a means for improving soil health — an important goal to no-tillers. To choose the right biological for your farm, Powe recommends collecting as much information as possible about the problem you're trying to address on your farm.
"Local data is such a great thing,” he says. “Products perform differently under different soil conditions, soil types and environmental conditions, so there is a lot of variability into how they perform in the field. We have microbials that can help with heat and drought stress with nutrient utilization. We also have a number of products for seedling diseases. The main thing is to identify that challenge you are dealing with."
Indigo Ag does a lot of field trials and works with land-grant universities and other third parties to analyze the effectiveness of the company's products and their return on investment for farmers. The following is evidence from field trials of Indigo’s seed treatment products for four crops grown under in a variety of regions with ranging weather patterns and soil types. These include drought, intense heat, rain-saturated fields, loamy Kansas soil and Alabama red clay, among others.
The microbes in Indigo Ag's biotrinsic W12 work with the corn plant to optimize root growth and help improve the amount of water the plant can take in and use.
Indigo’s W12 biological, launched this year, provides drought protection during the key flowering and grain-fill stages. Powe says stress during these stages can result in 50% yield reductions.
“We have seen great results with it," Powe says. "This product is taken in immediately by the plants through those early roots. It performs season long throughout the year.”
Powe says there is a significant difference in root development, stalk diameter and ear girth of the corn when comparing the corn treated with W12 to the untreated crop, citing a trial from Kansas.
“This product is really improving early growth," he says. "Once it got chest-high, there was probably a 6-8-inch difference between treated and untreated, and we experienced significant drought stress.”
The W12 product also displayed excellent results in a very different environment — the Arkansas Delta. P.R. Morris, an agronomist who has also been with Indigo for about 5 years, says the farmer saw a 29-bushel increase in corn treated with W12 flowable powder.
Applying the M34 seed treatment to soybeans resulted in a 20% increase in shoot biomass and a 154% increase in root biomass, specifically more lateral roots, which allowed the plant to explore more soil and take up more nutrients.
M34, available as a flowable powder and a wettable powder, is a biological product for soybeans from Indigo Ag. Morris says trials show more nodules on roots, more pods, larger root mass and more lateral roots with treated plants compared to untreated.
"We are seeing a 20% increase in shoot biomass and a 154% increase in root biomass," Morris says.
One trial in northern Alabama experienced particularly difficult conditions with hard red clay soils and a 60-day span without any rain. Plants treated with M34 held onto leaves longer, which allowed the upper canopy to add more moisture to the bean pods, Morris says. There were more nodules on the roots, greater retention of pods and better stalk diameter, too, resulting in a 3% yield increase.
W13, a microbial product for wheat, resulted in more fibrous roots, greater root and better initial tillering, says Matt Powe, technical services manager for Indigo Ag.
Developed in 2017, the W13 microbial seed treatment for wheat was the first microbial product that Indigo developed. A trial in Kansas, which can experience intense heat and drought stress, showed application of W13 resulted in more fibrous roots, greater root mass and better initiation on tillering, according to Powe. Treated plants had at least 3 tillers, while untreated had only 2-3 total.
One field in the trial had significant variation in soil quality as the field consisted of a steep hill and a very low area. Powe used yield-analysis software to get a good representation of all areas of the field, selecting a 1-acre zone that included both the treated and untreated seeds. The treated plants had a 7.4-bushel advantage, despite the untreated having the better creek bottomland soil.
Another field in Kansas experienced extremely wet conditions, which wheat does not like. Powe learned W13, while marketed as a drought and heat-stress product, also helps treated plants handle this opposite stressor because of their improved early growth, resulting in a 6.3-bushel advantage in this particular trial.
Indigo Ag’s microbrial treatment for cotton resulted in greater root mass and more fibrous roots, which enabled the plants to take up more nutrients from the soil, says P.R. Morris, technical services manager at Indigo.
Indigo has one product for cotton, WT29. Cotton is grown in hot, dry areas.
"It’s a tree that is grown as a perennial," Morris says. "If you think about a tree, it’s really those first couple of years of building those root systems that starts building that house for that plant to start setting fruit.’’
If heat and drought stress occur during the early vegetative period before the plants bloom, Morris says WT29 provides a 34-pound of lint per acre uplift. If the same stress occurs from bloom to boll set, Morris says the biological will provide a 26-pound uplift.
In a field trial in west Tennessee, a defoliant was sprayed in addition to a hormone to assist bulbs that were not quite ready to open. One side of the field was treated and another untreated. Morris says the majority of the bolls in the treated side of the field opened, and the treated plant was much more mature than the untreated.
“We are getting more root mass, more lateral roots and more root hairs to explore more soil and taking up more nutrients," Morris says.
Cotton responded positively to the microbial application, regardless of the environment, Morris says, with more mature plants with better first-position bolls in treated areas.
“That’s where the money is — the bolls that are first to be set and mature the longest,” Morris says.
Learn more about Indigo Ag's biological products and trials in the webinar below: