TABLE 1. Corn yield increased by 12 bushels when a full application of nitrogen fertilizer was combined with an Azospirillum treatment. Increased grain yields are one benefit that biologicals bring to no-till crop production. Source: University of Illinois Crop Physiology Research

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How to Choose the Right Biological for Your Farm

Identify operational & crop goals before investing in a biological to maximize return on investment

Conservation agriculture has inspired the fourth and newest class of crop input products to hit the market: biologicals. Agricultural biologicals are plant support and protection products derived from microbes, beneficial insects, plant extracts and other naturally occurring materials. They comprise a growing sector of the agriculture industry — one that is expected to triple to a $33.7 billion market by 2035

These amendments can be broken down into biologicals, which are beneficial microbes, and biostimulants, the products that microbes produce. A biological contains cultures of living microorganisms, while biostimulants do not. All biologicals support long-term sustainability, but they are not interchangeable. Each product addresses a specific need and comes with recommended handling, storage and application guidelines to retain viability and achieve the best results.

Connor Sible, a research associate at the University of Illinois, has spent the past 7 years studying biologicals. Below are 8 categories of today’s biological products and field trial data compiled by Sible to help inform decisions for your no-till program.


1. Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia and then to plant-soluble ammonium. Like humans, plants can’t use atmospheric nitrogen (N) directly. Instead, they scavenge nitrogen or trade it for sugars in a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. In soybeans, bacteria located in root nodules may supply up to 50% of the required N. Corn, which lacks nodules, traditionally relies on fertilizer and soil mineralization to fulfill its nitrogen requirements. Sible says a N-fixing biological provides a third source from which to pull…

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Jennie Kramer

Jennie Kramer is an environmental writer based in Schuylkill County, Penn. She holds a bachelor of science degree in Agronomy and Environmental Science, and possesses over a decade of horse farm management experience. Jennie can be reached at Kramer_jl@yahoo.com.

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