Competition for legume inoculant space in prairie soils

Pulse and soybean crops may be looking forward to a well-nourished season as inoculant offerings increase across the western growing region.

Last fall, Quebec-based global yeast and bacteria products maker Lallemand entered the legume crop inoculant business.

This week one of the world’s largest crop inoculant companies is setting up shop in Western Canada in time for spring seeding.

With its new partner, Brett-Young from southern Manitoba, the Argentine-based Rizobacter will begin offering its legume inoculants and related products across the region, including the American Northern Plains states.

Rob Chomyn manages product development for NexusBioag, now a division of farm inputs supplier Univar and the veteran inoculant organization, based on the precursor, Saskatchewan company Philom Bios.

“There are some new players out there. Competition is great,” he said about more companies entering the market.

“You have to have a product that works. For pulse and soybean growers it is well-understood,” he said.

The company is known for its Penicillium bilaii, phosphate inoculant and legume-crop partner products.

“And then you have to be able to deliver it through distributors and retailers. That is more challenging. We have that in Univar,” he said about the company’s owner and distribution chain.

Thomas Thiessen looks after Brett-Young’s corn, soybean and applied agricultural biological products.

He said that Rizobacter is a good fit for the privately owned business.

“We are like-minded. We believe in great products for farmers and research,” he said.

Agustin Biagioni heads Rizobacter’s North American operations, along with Europe, Africa and Asia.

Biagioni said the company feels that current consolidations in global agricultural inputs suppliers is creating opportunities for his company to improve its global position in the biologicals sector.

“Western Canada has a long history with pulse crops and soybeans have been expanding,” he said.

“We needed a partner that farmers trust and believe in. Brett-Young is that partner, with its strong history working with farmers,” he said.

The company has been testing products in the region for several years.

“We have experience in challenging (field) conditions. This is not new to us,” he said.

Scott Gray manages the privately held Lallemand’s broadacre crop and inoculants business in Canada and the company is bringing its own technology of a spherical granule that is very low-dust and provides good protection for the legume inoculants that enhance nitrogen fixation.

“Every new product has to have advantages for the producer. Ours is placement and survival of the two active strains of Rhizobium leguminosarum for pea and lentil and Bradyrhizobium japonicum for soybeans,” he said about the company’s Lalfix line of products.

The company has been testing the products in Western Canada and Gray feels theirs has a good fit in the marketplace.

“It is a competitive market, but we are confident in our distributor partners and the products,” he said.

The growing soybean acres in Western Canada are adding to the demand for legume inoculants, making the region, including the Northern Plains states a more attractive market for agricultural biological companies.

Thiessen said the Argentinian company’s reputation and its focus on research and development provided the necessary confidence needed to enter into the relationship.

“We think farmers will be happy to have more competition for their investments in their crops,” he said.

Biagioni said has company’s advantage is in pre-stressing the rhizobia, producing a bacteria with a thicker, more resilient membrane.

“We are able to achieve a higher concentration in the package and the soil. Additionally, rhizobia with osmo-protection technology are able to cope with desiccation and chemical stress (better) than those without it. The benefits of the technology are extended pre-treatment periods and increased nodulation,” he said.

The other tool the company is offering is a biochemical signalling molecule that it says anticipates the communication that naturally occurs between a legume and its symbiont. This triggers nodulation earlier and gives the plant a “head start” in its nitrogen fixation.

Rizobacter’s parent Company, Bioceres, was established in the late 1970s by producers and is now traded on the New York Stock Exchange as BIOX.

The new players join others in the business, such as BASF with its Nodulator line, TaurusAg’s Agtiv and Xitebio’s PulseRhizo.

Chomyn said the biologicals market space was once the home to pulse, horticulture and organic growers, “but the market is expanding.”

“It would be great if there were some products that could bring bigger returns for say wheat. Millions of acres would mean a lot for farmers and for the businesses that serve them. We are working on it,” said Chomyn.

He said NexusBioag is working with Novozymes, its former parent company, in the development of some new products that it hopes to bring to the market in the coming season.

“The research takes a lot of time and resources, but more is coming in this area. And there will be competition,” he said.

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