Evaluating biologicals for the farm


Biologicals hold great promise for improving crop production. From increasing root activity, soil microbes, and nutrient availability to building plant resiliency to abiotic stresses — this emerging crop input segment is bursting with product choices.

But for farmers, selecting which product and application is right for their acres can be a daunting and confusing task. When it comes to making product choices the best place for farmers to start is to define what they want to achieve in their fields, says Dr. Jane Fife, chief technical officer for 3Bar Bio, an Ohio-based start-up company focused on developing technologies to help improve the production and delivery of these types of products.

“What we work on day in and day out is how can we improve these products so that they’re more viable,” says Fife. The goal is to ensure “what gets handed over to a farmer, they can trust that the microbes are at a high concentration and ready to perform in their fields.”

3Bar Bio chief technical officer Jane Fife

At the Ontario Agricultural Conference earlier this month in Waterloo, Ont., Fife talked about the complexity of biologicals, how they work and reviewed product categories and choices. In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, she shared strategies for farmers to help navigate their options.

“When you talk about the abiotic stress piece of it, these are your biostimulants and your biofertilizers. And you have products that range in complexity, but they’re all derived from a natural source — things like organic acids, amino acids, seaweed, and plant extracts all the way to microbials,”says Fife. “These get even more complicated because you have all kinds of different microbes, strains and different functions that are being provided to the plant. At the end of the day, you want to understand what your need is, and then begin to look at what types of products might meet that need.”

Fife says a place for farmers to start would be to test how products that claim to reduce abiotic stress perform when crops are planted early in the season. “Maybe you would consider trying that on a few acres and see if a biological could help you get over some of that early stress.”

It’s also important to know how a product works, says Fife. “I think from a growers perspective the more information you can get talking with manufacturers, with experts in the field, and online, the better. There’s a lot of opportunities based on field trials and data to start to understand it.”

In the interview below, Fife discusses the need for product manufacturers and farmers to choose the most effective application strategies, and whether biologicals should be applied in a dry or liquid form, on seed, in furrow or in crop. She also encourages farmers to try products on a small scale, use them for more than one year and pay attention to details: “how you deliver it, what are the conditions going on and then use that information moving forward to see what adjustments you might need to make.”


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