The number of microbial products on the market has skyrocketed in the last few years, as companies invest in understanding interactions between soil bugs and crops.
“There’s a lot of attention on microbials right now. All the big ag companies have a microbial division. It’s an exciting to be involved in biologicals,” notes Jon Treloar, technical agronomist with Monsanto in this video, filmed beside the company’s QuickRoots plots at the Ag in Motion farm show northwest of Saskatoon.
Monsanto, through its BioAg Alliance with Novozymes, launched its BioAdvantage trial program in 2015, the company’s largest ever microbials research program in western Canada. They have close to 200 farmer-led, field-scale trials on in the ground this year, says Treloar.
Canadian farmers are no strangers to biological products, as nearly all pulses and soybeans are inoculated. Wheat, however, hasn’t normally received a biological seed treatment. Some of Monsanto’s trial work is focused on QuickRoots, a new-to-Canada microbial seed treatment for wheat, as well corn and soybeans, that combines two biologicals — a bacteria (Bacillus amyloliquefaciens) and a fungus (Trichoderma virens).
As Treloar explains, the fungus in QuickRoots frees up inorganic phosphorus that’s bound to calcium in the soil. That calcium then works with the Bacillus to make other organic macro nutrients — N, P and K — accessible for the plant.
“You have two modes of action with the bacteria and the fungus working independently and in concert.”
The main reason they’ve invested in a large trial program is to build the evidence needed to have growers’ confidence, he says. There’s been a wave of inoculant and fertility products introduced to the Canadian market since the CFIA dropped the requirement to prove efficacy from its registration process in 2013.
“Right now really it’s buyer beware,” notes Treloar. “It’s unfortunate because there are so many products and a lot of it’s not backed by good agronomy or good science.”
And with the attention companies are giving biologicals, expect the wave of new products to continue.
“We’re really just at the tip of the iceberg for understanding the soil microbe-plant interaction,” he says.