FMC’s Douglas notes that biologicals are products derived from “sources of bacteria or plant extracts; they’re a natural source, in that sense.” The key is that companies are working with living organisms that must be processed, packed, shipped, stored and then delivered to the farm.

“You can have both live organisms and dead organisms that can do a task,” he says. “The key aspect here is bringing the synthetic and the biological together, and we’re strong on formulation science.”

Earlier this year, BASF closed on its purchase of Becker Underwood and created its Functional Crop Care division, where the company sees a future in biologicals, as well. While it started with inoculants, Becker Underwood was already working on products that do more than that in the soil. For example, Integral is a biofungicide that extends suppression of two key fungal diseases.

“These are living organisms,” says Justin Clark, technical marketing specialist for BASF. “For example, with Vault HP inoculant plus Integral biofungicide, we have Bacillus subtilis, which is a biofungicide and has biostimulant properties.” He adds that Integral biofungicide is also in other products in the line, helping control key plant diseases using a biobased approach.

BASF constantly tests its biologicals to make sure they are viable and effective when deployed on the farm. Clark explains how the company works to package and preserve inoculant products. They are labeled, and farmers have to make sure they aren’t exposed to temperature extremes. “These are living organisms, and you have to take care of them,” he says.

He adds that for inoculants applied to seed, the company has demonstrated a significant level of on-seed survival. “With Vault HP inoculant plus Integral biofungicide, we have 125-plus days on-seed survival with common seed treatment actives for the rhizobia, and 240 days on-seed survival for the Integral biofungicide.”