Chemical fungicides applied to corn seed and other crops generally protect the seed and emerging seedling from certain fungal diseases. But these fungicides do not provide season-long protection to the root system.

Enter natural biological products. Dr. Gary Harman, a Cornell University plant pathologist and acting CEO of a new company called BioWorks Inc., believes season-long root protection can make plants more efficient and more productive.

Pathologists' company. BioWorks was formed to produce and market biological pesticides, one of which was discovered and developed by Harman and other Cornell plant pathologists.

The product is T-22, sold as a planter box or in-furrow treatment. The active ingredient is a special hybrid strain of a beneficial, naturally occurring fungus, Trichoderma harzianum, strain T-22, selected and improved in a microbial breeding program at Cornell.

When placed in the soil with seeds or seedlings, this biological protectant is claimed to colonize the plant's root system 100 times better than its natural counterpart. The fungus feeds on substances given off by the roots rather than competing with the plant for nutrients. At the same time, it aggressively protects the plant's roots against invasion by fungi like Pythium, Fusarium and Rhizoctonia.

"Once the beneficial fungus has 'colonized' the roots, the fungus will challenge and kill pathogenic fungi attempting to penetrate the roots and feed on them," Harman says.

Unlike chemical fungicidal seed treatments, the protection afforded by this new biological fungicide seed treatment stays with the plant throughout the season, helping the plant fight off invading root fungi and allowing a better, stronger, healthier root system to develop. In most crops this translates into healthier plants and often better yields.

Diseases come and go. "Since weather conditions and pathogen levels differ from year to year, using T-22 may seem like a roll of the dice. Where we see advantages from it is when soil-borne diseases become a problem." says Dr. Chris Hayes, BioWorks' director of research and product development.

John Corman, Spring Mills, PA, put out several strips of side-by-side soybean tests at two locations "Across the plots with all varieties, the T-22 treated beans averaged around 3 bu./acre better. In one plot, they were 4.6 bu. better, and I had one strip where the difference was 9.9 bu. in favor of the treated beans," he says.

Reserving judgment. While he's pleased with the results this year from T-22, Corman wants to reserve judgment until he's had a chance to look at it in a couple of "more normal" years.

According to the company, test plots with this biological have shown an average yield increase of 5 bu./ acre for both corn and soybeans. Cost of the product is approximately $2/acre for corn and $5/acre for soybeans.

Dr. David Pieczarka, BioWorks' director of sales and marketing, says T-22 has proven to be beneficial in such crops as alfalfa, corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, sweet corn, dry beans, potatoes, sugar beets and many vegetable crops.

For more information contact BioWorks Inc., Dept. FIN, 122 N. Genesee St., Geneva, NY 14456, 800-877-9443 or circle 257.