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Companies are turning to biological approaches for boosting crop yields. The range of approaches is varied, from seed treatments to new sprays. Alliances bring more horsepower to product development efforts.
As more biological products enter the market, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more about the rhizosphere. This is the zone surrounding the roots of plants, and there’s a lot going on down there. The relationship among the roots, the soil and the organisms in the soil is the key, and it’s also where new biological products will “interface” with the system.
Tom Johnson is the founder of T J Technologies, which Novozymes acquired in 2013. Johnson, who now serves as senior consultant for Novozymes, notes that companies are recognizing that increasing the incidence of beneficial organisms in the rhizosphere will allow the plant to function more closely to its genetic potential.
“There’s something on your soil test that you forget to measure — time,” he says. “It doesn’t tell me how long that fertility will take to get from the soil to the rhizosphere. Biologicals can reduce the time it takes for that [fertility] to reach the rhizosphere.”
Johnson was the early developer of Quick Roots, a biological product that actually has an 18-month life on seed as a fungal bacterial component. It’s that kind of technology companies will have to perfect as they bring living tools to market to enhance the rhizosphere.
Monsanto sees the value of biobased solutions, creating the BioAg Alliance with Novozymes, which Johnson says will allow for greater field-level testing of this technology. And Monsanto is also looking toward the seed treatment approach as the key application method for these tools.
The future of crop production will be changing. “You’ll be looking at a systems-based approach,” says Brad Griffith, vice president, global commercial microbials, Monsanto, who is working with the BioAg Alliance. “These microbes are naturally sourced products, so we’ve had to learn how to ferment them, multiply them, and how to coat seed effectively without adversely affecting plantability.”