16 February 2022, Australia: Biological products were originally thought of only as an organic practice. Over the last 30 years, this attitude has changed considerably and biologicals are widely used in mainstream farming both chemical and organic systems.
Biologicals encompass a wide range of products and practices to help enhance soil fertility, biological activity and plant growth. These include soil amendments in both solid and liquid forms, foliar treatments and phyto stimulants among others.
Over decades, we have improved our farm practices to:
- Reduce soil erosion from wind and rain;
- Increase nutrient levels in the soil;
- Reduce fallow acres;
- Increase water infiltration into our soil;
- Increase yields; and
- Decrease weed pressures.
Unfortunately, many of these practices simply looked at the chemical or physical properties of our soils.
They paid little or no attention to the real workhorses of our soil, the living biology. These organisms both small and large help to aerate soil, feed plants, cycle nutrients, balance pH levels, protect from root disease and supply water.
Soil biology has a symbiotic relationship with plants. They help to bring all the things required for healthy growth to the growing plants.
In return, the plants produce substances that the soil biology can readily use as a food source.
The problems associated with live biological products is that science does not understand 90% or more of what happens in our soil.
This brings on inherent problems with trying to identify different strains of biology and then trying to add them to our soil in quantities that will be beneficial to both the soil and to the growing plants.
A lot of work and money has been spent by 1000’s of companies around the world to identify certain strains of biology and put them to work, such as Bacillus Thuringiensis in corn and cotton this bacteria has many insecticidal benefits for these crops and has reduced the use of insecticides immensely in corn and cotton.
What to look for in your soil or plants to see if a biological product could help:
- Hard tight cloddy soil;
- Surface crusting of soil;
- Powdery or silty soil;
- Root systems not growing properly;
- Areas of paddocks with poor plant growth;
- Root disease increasing in paddocks; and/or
- Water puddling on the surface for extended periods.
There are a myriad of products on the market so choices must be made on what product or products to use.
Many choices can be eliminated by simply looking at cost or application methods including return on investment.
Most of the biological products come from the horticulture industry which in the past has had a larger ability to pay for high biological products.
What works on a small acreage type situation will not likely work on a larger broadacre operation simply due to cost and application methods.
Tips to finding good biological products:
- Will the manufacturer give you a list of ingredients;
- Does the manufacturer have contacts you can call to verify any claims or results;
- Will the manufacturer supply any product to trial on your farm;
- Do the stated claims sound too good to be true or the list too long to be believable;
- Is there any verifiable science behind the product;
- Will the manufacturer stand behind the product;
- Will the product fit into your current farming practices;
- If the product is a live biological product will it affect your native biology;
- Is the product rate clearly defined or is it a wide rate range;
- Will the manufacturer or representative be back to crop check and look at results with you in crop;
- Be clear with the representative with what you are trying to achieve if you have sought them out; and
- Ask if there is a guide to possible return on investment with the product.
Most biological products really shine when there is stress in the growing crop be that too much water, drought, temperature etc.
Think of soil applied biological products as a way to supercharge soil to make better conditions for your crop to grow in.
The one thing that will be here long after we are gone is the soil. If you are running a family farm you will likely be handing the land down to the next generation, biological products can help to increase your soil productivity.
With the current development curve in biological products and most of the big major crop protection companies developing biological products this area has huge potential to be the next “Green” revolution in agriculture.
The best situation in my opinion is that we can use the best of both worlds. We can use biological products to improve soil and plant health.
This should let us use chemical products more sparingly therefore we all benefit from this reduced chemical use.
Please remember healthy vigorous growing plants have natural defenses against disease and insect pressure.