My assumption is part idealism, part result of our 2017 CropLife® Biological Product Market Survey, which was sent to 29,000 ag retailers and other industry members nationwide. In the survey 67% of respondents said they plan to “increase the percentage of biological products” they sell/distribute in the future. Additionally, nearly half (49%) affirmed that their customers apply biologicals as “both seed treatments and topicals.”
Advanced Biological Marketing (ABM) is one such company finding success with seed-applied biological products. Dan Custis, CEO of the Van Wert, OH-based company, has been involved in the biologicals segment of the industry for almost 18 years now. He says that when the company first started marketing biologicals back in 2000 there was “very little adoption at all. Very little.”
“A lot of the types of products that we manufacture were referred to as kind of a bathtub mixture, or ‘Foo-foo Dust’,” Custis fondly recalls. “As we really got into it, we as a company put a lot of science and knowledge behind it.”
Ah yes, another aspect of biological products addressed in the survey. By far the top consensus among those surveyed was that biological products engender a “lack of trust around product performance” while a sizeable 72% of retailers responded that biopesticide products need “more research that demonstrates product effectiveness.”
At ABM, Custis says the company has research that shows about a seven bushel-per-acre yield increase over a five-year average on corn, and in soybeans that number is around two-and-a-half bushels per acre. Its top biopesticide, the seed-applied SabrEx (two strains of Trichoderma) is typically either applied downstream at the retailer, or on-farm by the grower. The company does work with some seed manufacturers as well, such as local Ohio seed company Rupp.
“We know that maybe we get six weeks of benefit at most from a chemical seed treatment depending on weather, unless it’s a systemic,” Custis says. “What biologicals bring to the table is the extension of that plant health beyond the six weeks. Biologicals are a living organism, they should be able to live on the root system of that plant up through flowering.”
ABM’s SabrEx is distributed via the traditional crop input retail channels, through well-known players such as Crop Production Services, WinField United, Wilbur-Ellis, and KOVA of Ohio. Production and formulation take place in Van Wert, while research & development is housed in the Finger Lakes region of Western New York in Geneva.
“Right now in R&D we’re taking a look at nematode control in soybeans and corn, that’s one of the products that we have committed to EPA for approval right now,” Custis shares. “That (product) would be a first, and we’ve certainly got other things in the pipeline that I’m not able to talk about at the moment.”
Where do others see the biopesticide industry headed in the next couple years? Again, we consult our survey responses, and with nearly three-fourths (72%) saying their customers prefer to apply biologicals not as one-off standalones, but actually in conjunction with conventional products. Well-known Iowa State University seed treatment expert Allison Robertson agrees.
“There has been quite a lot of work looking at biologicals, not as stand-alone treatments, but in partnership with treatments that address pathogens in the field,” she shared back in August. “In addition, nematicides have been developed recently to help fight off soybean nematodes.”
Which provides a perfect segue to discuss post-patent giant Albaugh and its intriguing BIOst system, which Director of Global Proprietary Products Chad Shelton describes as “the first complete biological seed treatment platform.”
“What’s really exciting for retailers,” he continues. “Is our BIOst 100 nematicide, which can be combined with synthetic chemistries to give both insect and nematode protection. This is the first biological nematicide registered for control of both soil dwelling pests, along with activity on nematodes. And when we combine that with a neonic seed treatment it’s giving the grower a better return-on-investment (ROI).”
That’s a trend Shelton is seeing play out more and more in the row crop biologicals space in the last couple years, shifting the deployment of biopesticides from one-off products to more integrated usage with conventional hard chemistries.
“It’s no longer about having one mode of action, or a specific agronomic response in the marketplace. To me that’s the biggest change,” he shares. “When you have biopesticides in combination with synthetics at a reduced rate you’re going to get enhanced performance plus ROI.”
Another area that Albaugh is focusing attention is developing products with what Shelton describes as “customization based on microclimate.”
“Our goal today is to customize seed treatment technologies based on micro climate and (regional) needs,” he adds.