By: Lamar Buckelew, product development manager, FMC
Getting a crop off to its strongest start is essential in crop production, and in-furrow technologies remain one of the most talked about topics to achieve that goal. Traditional chemistries and delivery systems are valuable tools in the process, but the new frontier in at-plant technologies is the development of biological products.
Biologicals offer alternative modes and mechanisms of action to protect plants from pests and pathogens as well as boost outputs. From venture capitalists to the largest crop protection companies, investment in this arena is increasing rapidly to discover and define the vast benefits that biological ingredients bring to this market.
Biological development programs are producing a wide range of commercial products, including biostimulants, biofungicides, bioinsecticides and bionematicides. All of these products contain living organisms, which, for the most part, already exist naturally and either directly or indirectly affect the plant.
A commonly used biological, either through direct application or contained within transgenic plants, is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which forms crystals in the mid-gut of insects after ingestion causing their death. Other bacterial strains might colonize around developing roots, creating a biofilm that protects the plant from pathogens. These growing colonies last longer than seed treatments to provide protection while the plant is growing. Ethos® XB Insecticide/Fungicide, introduced by FMC in 2016, combines a synthetic insecticide with a biological fungicide. It produces trillions of spores of living bacteria per acre that germinate when they get in the soil. These spores colonize around the developing roots, creating a biofilm that protects the roots from plant pathogens trying to attack them.
Other biologicals work less directly. Some soil amendments, for example, enhance root systems, leading to better nutrient and water uptake or by solubilizing nutrients like phosphorus, making them more available for plant uptake. FMC entered the soil amendment market this year with an in-furrow product called VGR™ Soil Amendment. Its microbes solubilize phosphorus and make more nutrients available for the roots. The microbes also work to improve water uptake, resulting in a faster growing and healthier plant. VGR Soil Amendment tank mixed with Capture® LFR® Insecticide showed a 9.1 bu/A yield advantage over untreated fields, and a 3.9 bu. advantage over Capture LFR Insecticide alone.
FMC is on the leading edge of a potential crop protection paradigm shift away from mostly synthetic chemistries and toward biological products. Decreased synthetic chemistry development with increased R&D in biologicals will drive this shift, and it is exciting to be part of this leading-edge change and seeing where it goes.
Ultimately, biologicals offer a promise of pest management through living organisms in a way some consider more sustainable in the long term than some of the current options available to growers. What is most interesting is how the influx of spending in this area will undoubtedly have beneficial side effects in areas we might not expect. Likely there will be advances in microbial selection markers that will allow for faster development of agriculturally active biological strains.
Watch the following video from FMC for additional information from Dr. Lamar Buckelew and Dr. Fred Below about best practices in pest control, ag issues and how growers can maximize each acre.