Microbial products show yield hikes possible

Using naturally occurring bacteria and fungi to enhance soil fertility and crop yields could help feed growing population

Microbial products are about to play an important role in boosting worldwide food security, said a manager of a leading biological products company.

“The things that we will find and identify in the (BioAg) Alliance … are going to make an impact on how people can eat — soon,” Michael Frodyma, senior manager for Novozymes, North America, told the Emerging Technologies for Global Food Security Conference in Saskatoon last week.

The BioAg Alliance was created in 2014 when Novozymes and Monsanto formed a partnership to research and develop microbial products for agriculture.

“If you take our top strain, our top performing organism, and you applied it to the entirety of the corn production in the United States, you would increase the amount of corn produced by about nine million tonnes,” Frodyma told the audience.

The BioAg Alliance has publicized significant crop yield increases in its first three years.

“Corn is certainly a focus for us. We’re going to spend a lot of time looking at the types of inoculants we can use in corn, but we’re also focusing on a lot of other interesting crops: cotton, canola obviously of interest here in Saskatchewan,” Frodyma said.

He added the demand for microbial farm inputs has been steady because of substantial improvement in yields those products can bring.

The agricultural microbials market was valued at C$2.8 billion in 2015 by Markets and Markets Research and is expected to double in the next three years, he said.

Microbial-based products use naturally occurring microbes such as bacteria and fungi to enhance crop yield and soil fertility.

Saskatoon-based company Philom Bios was a pioneer in crop inoculant production when it was bought by Novozymes in 2007.

Philom’s research remains the foundation of Novozymes’ pursuits.

“We’re looking for new micro-organisms that help sustainable agriculture, help in biocontrol, help in biofertility … to develop technologies that are going to feed this world because it’s definitely necessary,” he said.

“This year we’ll do over half a million independent field trials across the United States.… That’s a huge reach that we never would have been able to do ourselves and it’s truly this collaboration with Monsanto that allows us to do that.”

Frodyma declined to provide more details on the most promising strains, but said the trials are showing pleasant and unexpected results. The next steps involve getting the microbes into seed treatment.

“Take that organism from its happy wet warm environment and put it on seed with all those other things that are meant to kill other organisms.

“How do you then take that organism, dry it on the surface so you can keep it viable? A lot of that work happens right here (in Saskatoon),” said Frodyma.

Because it is relatively new, BioAg Alliance is still in the process of screening potential new discoveries and testing hypotheses, he said.

“We have certainly found new species, new genus, new families and new orders that we had never seen before that’s not in the literature. There is a lot of opportunity out there.”

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