Making Sense of Biologicals: Interest Increasing in Biologicals

Tacy CalliesBiologicals, MSOB


By Clint Thompson

Increased interest in biologicals stems from their long-term sustainability and the belief that synthetic materials have reached their ceiling of productivity.

Tate McPherson, vice president of marketing and business development at Douglas Plant Health (DPH), shares those sentiments about biologicals, which represent a group of products derived from living organisms. Farmers utilize these environmentally friendly products in combination with appropriate chemical applications to provide added protection against pests, plant diseases and weeds.

“Manures were probably some of the first fertility ever utilized. They’ve been around longer than most synthetic chemistries,” McPherson says. “We’re seeing an increased interest in biologicals within our markets because synthetic chemistries address a select set of issues. We’re running into ceilings from a yield aspect and a return-on-investment aspect. We are at the point where many growers have increased fertilizer inputs and are seeing a diminishing profit. Growers are realizing synthetic fertility isn’t enough to keep the shed lights on. They’re nearing a ceiling.”

Sustainability is always a factor that citrus growers must consider when contending with yearly pest issues, diseases, unstable market prices and foreign competitors.

McPherson also believes there is increased interest in biologicals due to sustainability from a safety perspective. Biologicals occur in nature; they can possess and foster everything from defense mechanisms to pesticidal responses to positively impacting growth.

Biologicals are not a new idea; they are an old concept. However, developing them to be utilized effectively is the challenge that growers and manufacturers face today.

“I don’t think there’s a farmer in America that would argue that manures are not good for their farm,” says McPherson. “The problem is how do you take that to commercial scale? It’s not easy to tell the commercial guy who’s managing 5,000 acres of citrus groves that he’s got to incorporate 1 to 5 tons per acre of this into his operation. That’s a lot of equipment, time and overhead.”

McPherson explains that DPH biological products utilize the positive attributes contained in manures, composts and other naturally available amendments. There is technological ability to isolate, condense and get these products into a format that can be effectively delivered to broad cropping systems with minimal disruption to a grower’s current practice.

“You have to have good fertility. You have to have water,” he says. “This isn’t a silver bullet for everything. But it’s a necessary part of a balanced program that will produce better yields — year in and year out.”

Growers’ mindsets are shifting toward a more sustainable and more efficient way to farm.

“People have gotten better at looking at their farming operations proactively. Through that shift, more and more growers are introducing biologicals,” he adds.

He expects to see biologicals become more mainstream over the next several years with increased registrations for biopesticides through the Environmental Protection Agency.

The most challenging hurdle remaining for producers in implementing biologicals is sifting through the marketing noise. There are thousands of companies worldwide claiming to have a biological product that is sure to benefit every American farm. But what is most beneficial for your farm and the soil you sow? Those are questions farmers must answer.

“We’re not trying to sell a bill of goods. We’re trying to solve serious problems for our industry. Soil quality and health may be the most serious problem our industry will face over the next 20 years. DPH is committed to bringing profitable, biological solutions to growers and distributors,” McPherson concludes.

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Clint Thompson