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Biostimulants: Everything you need to know about this important crop technology

Read Time: 8 minutes

By Tracy Kinch May 02, 2023

Biostimulants. Are they more than just the latest buzz word in crop inputs? With many claims both legitimate and unfounded, biostimulants have a rocky reputation. So let's cut through the noise and understand which biostimulant products are worth exploring and which should be avoided.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates biostimulants in our country as part of the Federal Fertilizers Act and Regulations1. When selecting a biostimulant to use on your farm, read the ingredients list. You‘ll want to look for products that have the Latin ingredients listed. If it only says, “proprietary blend,” “beneficial microbes,” or “mycorrhizae,” there is no transparency on what ingredients are included. The biostimulant industry is not as well-regulated as others so choosing a product with detailed composition information can help you avoid disappointment.

What are biostimulants, and how do they work?

Biostimulants are naturally occurring substances (such as extracts) or microorganisms (usually bacteria) that can stimulate different growth processes in plants. These naturally occurring substances (biologicals) are used to create products that can be applied to seed, growing plants, or the soil to help with healthy plant growth.

Biostimulants can work in many ways, including:

  1. Facilitating nutrient uptake.
  2. Improving the plants’ ability to manage abiotic stress.
  3. Enhancing the development of soil microorganisms.
  4. Stimulating root growth to increase water use efficiency.

Although becoming more popular, biologicals are not new to agriculture. Farmers have used biological products like pulse inoculant (containing microbial rhizobium) and JumpStart® (containing penicillium bilaiae) seed treatment for years. I have seen some very reliable results from these products on farm, and they are widely accepted in Western Canada.

OHM® focuses specifically on helping plants deal with abiotic stress such as drought, extreme temperatures, and salinity. These abiotic stresses reduce a plant’s ability to photosynthesize, which can lead to impeded plant growth and reduced flowering.

When and where do biostimulants fit on the farm?

Biostimulants can make your entire agronomic package perform better and help set up your crop for success. They are not, however, meant to replace a complete nutrition package. Although some products claim otherwise, biostimulants do not replace nutrients or fertilizers.

If you see the value of spending a little extra on biostimulants that can help your crop work through environmental factors with less stress and enhance root growth, then they might be a great fit for your farm. If you already have a 4R nutrition plan and are looking to take the next step in making the most of your input investments, then I highly recommend the use of biostimulants. 

What are some best management practices when it comes to biostimulants?

1)      Use biostimulants in addition to complete nutrition.

Biologicals provide the most potential when applied to a crop that is already agronomically solid.

2)      Get the timing right.

Apply foliar biostimulants during favourable growing conditions. Keep in mind some biologicals require partnership with the plant (eg. Utrisha™ N) and when stress or unfavorable conditions are present, this potential bonding may be delayed or reduced.

3)      Ensure the right application ratio.

Always apply biostimulants with high water volumes and reduced wind to allow for greater contact and increased efficacy. Some products have limited tank mixability so be sure to check with your local Cargill rep.

4)      Follow proper storage requirements.

Remember, biostimulants contain living organisms and extracts so be careful not to expose them to temperatures above 5 degrees Celsius, avoid direct sunlight, and don’t store leftover product as it can expire.

How can we help you get the most benefit from biostimulants?

I advise farmers to start small scale. Read through the labels, set reasonable expectations, and look for a product that works best for your crop of choice. Sit down with one of our experts to determine what products will be the right fit for you. We’ve been running field tests with a range of products, such as Envita®, Utrisha™, and OHM®, for multiple years under varying growing conditions and can share some helpful tips based on your goals.

Contact your Cargill representative for more tips on how to incorporate a biostimulant in your inputs plan. 



Health Canada



Always read and follow label directions. OHM® is a trademark of a UPL™ Corporation Limited Group Company, Envita® is a registered trademark of Syngenta®, Utrisha™ is a trademark of Corteva™.

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Tracy Kinch

Tracy grew up in southern Alberta where she graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology. In her past experience, she has completed carbon modeling research with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. She's also done extensive blackleg research in Australia. Most recently, Tracy has worked as a private agronomist for a large farm in central Alberta before joining the Cargill Saskatchewan team in Fall 2021 as a Market Development Agronomist out of Moose Jaw, SK. She has a passion for plant pathology and loves researching in all aspects of agronomy.