In many ways, the biofertilizers segment of the biologicals category has come pretty far in just one year. In CropLife® magazine’s first-ever Biologicals Report in 2018, its readers were surveyed on how they perceived biologicals in the marketplace. According to respondents, 65% believed that one of the biggest barriers to future adoption for biofertilizer products was “a lack of trust in product performance.” Indeed, when asked about this market perception, one biofertilizer supplier in the 2018 report said essentially the same thing.
“The biggest misconception is that there is not much science around these product categories,” the supplier said. “That may have been the case 15 to 20 years ago but not today.”
In 2019, however, Tommy Roach, Director of Specialty Products and Product Development for NaChurs (Marion OH), says simply getting the word out about biofertilizers is the primary goal for companies taking part in this category. “The challenge our industry faces is educating growers, consultants, and retailers on the difference between all of the biostimulant and biofertilizer products available in the marketplace today,” Roach says.
Of course, according to Bruce Caldwell, CEO for 3Bar Biologics (Columbus, OH), the cause for biofertilizer usage is being helped by a desire on the part of agriculture to do whatever it can to reduce crop nutrient losses in the environment. “Nutrient-use efficiency is a bigger issue than ever,” Caldwell says. “Problems in the Maumee Basin, Tampa Bay, and many other areas keep water-quality issues top of mind among key influencers. Biofertilizers that are effective have the potential to be a big part of the solution to help agriculture become more productive in yield per acre and, at the same time, reduce nutrient losses that no one wants.”
Yield, Soil Health Issues
Along with nutrient-use efficiency, the other key market driver for biofertilizer usage ties back to soil health, which is “becoming the big buzzword out in the marketplace,” Roach says.
Marty Campfield, Vice President of Domestic Sales and Marketing for Azomite Soil Products (Nephi, UT), agrees. “The key trends in the industry right now include a continued and growing interest in utilizing new product technologies with natural and organic components to promote root growth, soil health, and crop production,” Campfield says. “Products that can not only improve yield but also positively affect harvest grade and/or sizing in specialty crops, along with shelf life and nutritional quality, are gaining interest. Along with individual product performance, there is an exciting opportunity to discover and utilize product synergies for optimal performance and return on investment. These may include combinations such as humic and fulvic acids mixed with volcanic ash.”
Despite these inroads into the overall agricultural market mindset, getting a foothold into the Midwestern row crop segment for biofertilizers remains a challenge, say market insiders. “There is still very little headway in the Midwest row crops markets, with biofertilizers still concentrated in specialty crops,” Caldwell says. “But this is starting to change as companies such as Pivot Bio are going direct to influential farmers with novel biofertilizer offerings.”
Murray VanZeggelaar, Vice President of Marketing for NaChurs, agrees with that assessment of the Midwestern biofertilizer mindset. “Market penetration remains stagnant due to low crop prices,” VanZeggelaar says. “However, early adaptors are seeing the benefits of biologicals.”
Among those “early adaptor products” would be the company’s own NaChurs Rhyzo-Link, which improves stress tolerance and bolsters nutrient/water-use efficiency in plants. “NaChurs Rhyzo-Link products were the first on the market four years ago to combine plant nutrition — nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and zinc — with a poly-microbial component in a ready-to-use solution with extended storage characteristics of 18 months,” says Jay Castleman, Specialty Crop Market Manager for NaChurs. “Learning how, where, and when to use these products continues today and into the future.”
Another such microbial product entering the market is from 3Bar Biologics. According to Caldwell, 3Bar is launching a new larger-size package to its beneficial microbe system that can cover 120 acres. “This is particularly in response to our customers who have been using the product more than two years and are now applying to their full farm to get the full benefit that they have seen on smaller plot trials,” he says.
Azomite is introducing a very finely ground powder version of its Azomite Ultrafine. “This product sizing/grade provides a very high surface area, which can improve physical and chemical interactions and be mixed in a liquid suspension for longer particle suspension duration,” Campfield says.
More new products are in the works. One of them was previewed in late February at the 2019 Commodity Classic show in Orlando, FL.
“We have been pretty active in this space over the last couple of years,” says Chandra Roberts, Marketing Director of Specialty Formulations for BRANDT (Springfield, IL). “We have a new enzyme-based product that has seen really good yield response — as high as 15% bump in row crops.”