The rapidly evolving science of soil health, with its explosive growth in knowledge of soil biology combined with high crop prices, fed the fire of biological innovation. New products have entered the market at an unprecedented rate with more on the way. However, product claims are now running into input budget reality. How does a grower in this market justify these new products?
"It's all about the benefit versus cost ratio," says Greg Ginisty, product manager, Seed Treatment Products, Bayer. How much do you pay, and what does it bring in additional benefits and yield?
Investigate product claims and the research behind them, suggests Ginisty. That includes going beyond yield claims to the odds you will see that increase. "You may get a yield increase, but is that 10 percent of the time?" he asks. "Poncho/Votivo has shown a 10-bushel increase on average in over 800 trials in the past 6 years and a positive yield gain 80 percent of the time in these same trials." (Votivo, the company's flagship biological in the row-crop market, was introduced in 2010.)
Look at the proven record, he adds. How much has it been used? Ask your retailer if there are interactions with other products already on the seed.
"What we are learning about biologicals is that adding a 2-bushel advantage product with a 2-bushel advantage product may not get you 4," says Ginisty. "You may get one and a half. Not all these organisms like each other. You need biologicals that are compatible with every component on the seed.
"Try a product in test plots on your farm, in your system," adds Ginisty. "We do a lot of testing of our products, but we don't have the manpower to test against every new biological product being launched on the market."
Seek third party tests
Matt Quist, manager, Nutrition/Branded Products, Wilbur-Ellis, is eager to talk about the company's Nutrio product line. He cites three years of proven efficacy and multiple research partners, third party and otherwise, behind the recent introduction. The four biologicals are focused on soil health as a precursor to plant health and increased yield.
Fully cognizant of the financial challenges facing growers, Quist counsels prospective customers of any new product to look for "proven performance" as demonstrated by third party research. He advocates asking questions and expecting answers that make sense.
"Can the seller competently describe what the product is doing in the soil?" asks Quist. "You should be able to get clear answers on the function of the different components and what results from them. If it is improved uptake, you should be able to see a response in the soils and the crop. The final proof is in the yield."