Of course, biobased technology challenges formulators and companies in new ways. Soybean inoculants are the granddaddy of biobased solutions for crop yield enhancement. The living rhizobia that help soybeans fix needed nitrogen nodules have been around for some time, but getting living rhizobia from fermenter to field as a viable product was a challenge.

Now these experienced companies are taking the approach a step further, creating rhizobia and seed-applied biological crop inputs for seed treatments.

“To make that work, you need a holistic approach,” says Huff. “You need to have the right polymer to put the inoculant where it belongs and look at the other seed treatment components. It is a complex relationship optimizing seed, soil and foliar treatments.”

Yet creating seed-treatment-based approaches makes use of this new technology easier, requiring the farmer simply to set up the planter, fill the hopper and head to the field.

Already, many soybean producers are using a biological seed treatment in the Poncho/Votivo combination from Bayer CropScience. The Votivo portion controls nematodes using a biological approach, which was a first for the industry.

Bayer CropScience bought AgraQuest in 2013, and is working on maximizing that firm’s biobased approaches in new ways. Recently, the company announced it had purchased the Biagro group in Argentina, further strengthening its biobased efforts. Biagro produces soybean inoculants.

“We’re looking for new ways to improve crop yields,” says Ethan Luth, seed growth product manager, Bayer CropScience. “We’re looking at biological solutions for pests and diseases.”

He points to the pythium species where a biological compound might be applied that would turn on the plant’s own defense mechanisms to battle the disease. This kind of approach is not a new idea; the challenge is finding the compounds that stimulate a healthy plant response when disease is present — or in advance of disease.

Another major player in the biologicals market is Syngenta, which is officially rolling out Clariva Complete for soybeans in  2014. The treatment uses a naturally occurring soil bacteria — Pasteuria nishizawa — which has a direct mode of action on nematodes. Essentially, spores for the organism are in the seed treatment, and soil moisture moves them from the seed.