Biologicals Are Here to Stay

Unseen by the naked eye, there are enough microbials to circle the earth 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times, according to Novozymes. These tiny organisms could hold the key to unlocking corn and soybean yields and researchers are investing more time and money into them.

“The largest market for biopesticides is conventional crops,” says Keith Jones, executive director of the Biological Products Industry Alliance (BPIA). He estimates more than 400 companies are interested in biostimulants and at least 200 have or are developing biopesticide products on the market. There are even more biopesticide companies with many more biopesticide products already on the market.

The recently passed farm bill includes a description of the term biostimulant intended to help create a clearer path to market.

“That was a huge victory for us,” Jones says. “This is the first use of the term biostimulant in any US law and was based on what they plan to use in Europe, so it should help with regulatory harmonization and global trade.”

Currently, the EU represents 35% of the global biostimulant market share and 32% of the global biocontrol (biopesticide) market. The fastest growing market, however, is Latin America. According to DunhamTrimmer, a market research company focused on biological product markets, the global biocontrol market was valued at $3.8 billion in 2017 and is growing at a consolidated annual growth rate (CAGR) in excess of 16%. The global biostimulant market was valued at $2.2 billion in 2017 with a CAGR of 13%. By 2025, the combined global value of the biocontrol and biostimulants is projected to exceed $15 billion.

While promising, biologicals still pose challenges.

Barriers to entry into the biological market are a big obstacle, according to Jacob Parnell, senior scientist at Novozymes. Here are some major challenges he’s identified:

  • Efficacy: Microbes interact with soil, plant, bacteria, etc., and testing in a sterile environment doesn’t show what potential negative reactions the microbe might have
  • Versatility: There could be some ecological trade-offs such as the compound only working during specific plant growth stages, only associating with certain parts of the plan or a narrow host range
  • Growing Challenges: Some microbes aren’t practical to grow and might be so expensive to grow they’re not worth marketing
  • Stability: Microbes are living organisms that need to adapt to a wide range of conditions and adapt to a range of application techniques without dying or losing efficacy
  • Life Span: The organisms need be created to live long enough that they benefit the plant, through reproduction or a longer life

Despite challenges, companies, investors and farmers are taking note of biologicals and their potential in the market. Before pulling the trigger on a new biological compound on your farm, be sure to ask questions to find out what it can do, how stable it is and where testing has been completed.