Connor Sible, research associate at the University of Illinois, gave a presentation at the 2024 National No-Tillage Conference about biologicals and their effectiveness. Biologicals could be the next step for an operation that has seeding practices, fertility needs and pest management figured out, according to Sible. 

“Biologicals are complementing good practices, not replacing them,” he says.

Sible’s presentation took an unbiased look at many of the products on the market today, which he said generally fall into these 8 subcategories:

  1. Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria
     Increase plant-available nitrogen (N). Examples include Pivot Bio ProveN, TerraMax and Envita.
  2. Phosphorus-Solubilizing Microbes
     Increase availability of mineral phosphorus (P)
  3. Mycorrhizal Fungi
     Extension of the Root System
  4. Residue Degradation
     Enhance release of organic nutrients. Products on the market use Bacillus megaterium, Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, Bacillus licheniformis and Bacillus pumilus for residue breakdown.
  5. Enzymes (Phosphatases)
     Release organic P. Examples include Brandt EnzUp Zn and Helena Zypro.
  6. Humic/Fulvic Acids
     Chelate soil cations and feed microbes. Examples include Hydra-Hume A, NuTex EDA, Baccarat and Humitech LMW Humic Acid.
  7. Marine Extracts
     When foliar applied, they mitigate drought stress. When applied to the soil, they enhance the root zone.
  8. Sugars
     Sugars stimulate microbes and roots when added to the soil. When foliar applied, they may reduce crop stress.

When deciding what biological to try on your no-till operation, Sible says it’s not all about yield. There may be a greater opportunity, such as improving soil health or nutrient efficiency, so it’s important to have a goal in mind before trialing a biological. 

In the coming months, No-Till Farmer will publish data from Sible’s research into the effectiveness of biologicals — including when N-fixing biologicals work best — and his additional recommendations for what products hold the most potential. Subscribe to No-Till Farmer magazine and sign up for our free daily email newsletter for the latest updates. 

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