Here’s what you need to know about this important crop technology.
Several years ago I travelled to Cuba to study sustainable agriculture and first saw farmers applying biostimulants. They composted leaf litter and sprayed it on their crops to stimulate growth. Since then, my interest in the potential of biostimulants for broad acre crops in Western Canada has grown.
Here are the most common questions farmers ask about biostimulants and what you need to know if you’re curious about this technology.
What are biostimulants, and how do they work?
Biostimulants are naturally-occurring microorganisms (usually bacteria) that can stimulate different growth processes in plants. You can apply them to seed, growing plants, or the soil. Manufacturers may use natural or synthetic substances in their biostimulant products to boost plant processes like nutrient uptake, nutrient use efficiency, and tolerance to stress in the environment.
How has this technology evolved in recent years?
Farmers in different countries have used biostimulants for many years. Fun fact: Farmers in Ancient Rome covered seedlings with algae to promote their growth (Source: MDPI.com). Now biostimulants are gaining legitimacy in Canada, the US and Europe as governing bodies work to develop legal definitions and regulatory frameworks (Source: Agricen.com). The Canadian Food Inspection Agency generally regulates biostimulants in our country as part of the Federal Fertilizers Act and Regulations (Source: Health Canada).
Applying microorganisms to Canadian crops isn’t as novel as you might think. Farmers have been using products like QuickRoots® inoculant and JumpStart® seed treatment for many years. These products are technically biostimulants as QuickRoots contains the microbial organisms Bacillus amyloliquefaciens and Trichoderma virens, and JumpStart contains the soil fungus Penicillium bilaiae. I have seen good results from these products for many years, and they’re widely accepted in Western Canada.
When and where do biostimulants fit on the farm?
I recommend biostimulants to farmers who already have a 4R nutrition plan and are looking to take the next step in making the most of their fertilizer investment. Biostimulants help the crop take up and use that fertilizer efficiently. They support nitrogen fixation and stimulate root growth, which in turn helps the crop withstand drought, wet conditions and root rot.
Occasionally, I hear someone suggest you can cut back on fertilizer by adding biostimulants, but that’s a myth. Instead of thinking you can reduce fertilizer costs with biostimulants, consider it this way: Would you spend an extra $3/acre to get twice the roots? If you see the value there, then biostimulants might be a fit for your farm.
Just as a surfactant makes your glyphosate work better, biostimulants can make your fertilizer work better.
What’s new in biostimulant technology?
There has been a lot of research on the effects of bacillus bacteria on root growth. The bacteria colonize around the roots and work alongside rhizobia to make the roots bigger and more fibrous, supporting nitrogen fixation. In pulses, I’ve seen applications of bacillus bacteria help nodules stay active all season – even in dry or wet conditions where nodules would normally shut down early.
Cargill has also started carrying a mycorrhizae-based product from AGTIV® that supports tripartite symbiosis in the root system of pulse crops. Tripartite symbiosis is a three-way connection between the plant, rhizobia and the mycorrhizae fungus in the root system. This connection helps the plant access more nutrients in the soil so it can keep growing while making nodules (Source: PTAGTIV.com).
PROTIP: When selecting a biostimulant, choose a product that lists the bacteria’s concentration on the label. Biostimulants containing bacillus bacteria will likely provide a concentration of spores, written as CFU/g (colony-forming units per gram) on the label. The biostimulant industry is not as well-regulated as others so choosing a product with detailed composition information can help you avoid disappointment.
How can Cargill help farmers get the most benefit from biostimulants?
Research on the effects of biostimulants on Western Canadian field crops is limited so it’s smart to take a collaborative approach. I advise farmers I work with who are interested in trying this crop input to start small, do their homework and be curious.
Cargill tries to be hands-on with biostimulant customers because we are still fine-tuning our recommendations on when, where and how much to apply. My colleagues and I want to see how the products perform in our customers’ fields. We’ll share news of what’s happening with biostimulants in other parts of the Prairies and share our findings with local farmers. When we collaborate, we can learn together.
If you’re curious about biostimulants and want to know if there’s a product that could be a fit for your farm, talk to your Cargill agronomist. We’ve been running Field Tests with a range of products for the last few years and can share some ideas based on your goals.
Always read and follow label directions. QuickRoots and JumpStart are registered trademarks of Novozymes. AGTIV is a registered trademark of Premier Tech Agriculture. Nodulator is a trademark of BASF. AgriFlora is a trademark of Abnatura.