Beware when buying biologicals

Some new products don’t do what they advertise, says a researcher with Monsanto

Farmers need to practice buyer beware when purchasing biological products, says one of the world’s largest manufacturers of the microbes.

There are many products on the market that have precious little evidence to support their claims, according to Monsanto.

Farmers have little faith in the products, which is why Monsanto is now field-testing its most promising lines of microbials in an effort to provide growers with reliable data on how they perform.

John Treloar, who leads Monsanto’s Canadian field testing program for products coming out of the company’s BioAg Alliance with Novozymes, said a change in regulatory policy is making matters worse.

“Since the (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) dropped their efficacy requirements in 2013, there are 175 new products on the market with very, very little data supporting them,” he said.

That is why the BioAg Alliance launched its BioAdvantage TrialProgram in Canada last year, where its most promising biological products are tested by farmers on more than 150 plots of at least 40 acres.

One of the products tested in 2015 was the pulse crop inoculant TagTeam LCO. It was tested against BASF’s Nodulator XL. The products were tested on 12 pea fields and 12 lentil fields.

TagTeam won 75 percent of the pea trials and 92 percent of the lentil trials with an average yield advantage of 1.8 bushels per acre for peas and 1.3 for lentils.

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TagTeam is a Novozymes product that was commercialized before the company teamed up with Monsanto.

The first new product to come out of the alliance will be its Enhanced corn inoculant, which will be launched in the United States in 2017 and Canada in 2018.

“This one has really got us excited,” said Ryan Bartlett, who leads Monsanto’s commercial field testing program for biologicals around the world.

The product boosted corn yields by about four bushels per acre in more than 40 field trials across the U.S. by increasing nutrient uptake, in particular phosphorous uptake.

There is an Enhanced soybean inoculant in the development pipeline that increases yields by an average of 1.5 bushels per acre. That product is behind the corn inoculant in the development pipeline.

The company is also developing an Enhanced inoculant for canola that is being tested in the small plot program at 40 locations across Western Canada.

“I hope that it’s as big of a deal as it has been in corn for canola but we’re still collecting the data to show that,” said Bartlett.

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That product could be commercialized in 2018 in Canada.

Monsanto estimates western Canadian farmers are applying inoculants on 100 percent of their soybeans, 99 percent of their pulses and about 15 percent of their canola fields. That is a much higher rate than their American counterparts.

Wheat is one crop that isn’t inoculated. QuickRoots is a biological that the company believes will be a good fit for wheat. It will be tested in Canadian field trials in 2016.

“It’s pretty rock star to be honest from what I’ve seen in my field program,” said Treloar.

Biologicals were applied on an estimated 65 million acres of crops around the world in 2015, including a lot of vegetable crops. They generated US$1.8 billion in global sales compared to $240 billion for traditional pesticides and fertilizers.

Monsanto believes the potential is for biologicals to be applied on 250 million to 500 million acres by 2025, which is why it is front-loading its development pipeline.

“We’re testing over 2,000 microbes per year in the field,” said Bartlett.

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“The really unique thing about this alliance is that we aren’t taking in all those microbes and trying to figure out how they work in the lab. We’re taking them straight to the field.”