Some Progress, But Challenges Remain for Biologicals Market

Based upon the numbers, the biologicals category has made some excellent market gains these past few years. Despite this fact, there remains much work to do for widespread acceptance to take place.

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This was the overall finding of the 2021 Biologicals Survey, conducted by CropLife® magazine this past January. This built upon an earlier such survey, released back during the 2017-18 growing season, looking at the performance of the biologicals category in the ag retail marketplace.

First up, the 2021 survey asked about the mix of biological products companies currently sold to grower-customers — biofertilizers, biopesticides, and biostimulants. Respondents were allowed to choose all three biological products types for this question. And 27% indicated their companies sold no biological products at the present time — the same percentage as in the 2017-18 survey.

In terms of the three types of biological products, biostimulants remain the most common. According to the 2021 survey, 64% of respondents sell these products to their customers, up 1% from the 2017-18 survey. The percentage of respondents selling biofertilizers also increased from the earlier survey, up from 35% in 2017-18 to 39% in 2021. Meanwhile, the biopesticide segment saw its percentage drop slightly from 2018, down 2% to 31% in this year’s survey results.

How Used?

As for how biological products are used by grower-customers, the vast majority are utilized in conjunction or combination with conventional agricultural products. In fact, according to the 2021 Biologicals Survey, 92% of respondents indicated this was the case with their biological product users. Only 8% said that their grower-customers are using biological products in place of conventional products in their fields.

Regarding how these biological products are being applied by grower-customers, 21% of the 2021 survey respondents indicated these were used as topicals. Another 15% said that biological products are applied as seed treatments. However, the majority of respondents, 64%, said that biological users were applying products as both topicals and seed treatments.

Barriers to Adoption

Trust Cost Barriers Biologicals GraphicWhen survey respondents were asked about what barriers still exist within the agricultural marketplace to seeing the adoption of biological products become more widespread, they presented a range of reasons. By far the one mentioned most often by respondents was “a lack of trust in the product’s performance.” This was cited by 37% of survey respondents as the major reason biological products have had a hard time finding market acceptance.

In second place among barriers was cost. According to 20% of survey respondents, biological products are just “too expensive” compared with conventional agricultural products for grower-customers to use regularly. Close behind this was the belief that “conventional products are better than biologicals in the field,” which was mentioned by 18% of respondents. The remaining 25% cited myriad reasons for low biological product adoption, including storage concerns, a loss of seller profits, and regulatory issues.

As to how biological products could enjoy better industry adoption percentages, 2021 Biological Survey respondents were almost universal in their view: More training is needed, mentioned by 76% of participants. However, what forms this training takes ranged across the board. A slight majority, 20%, favored webinars detailing the benefits of biologicals. Eighteen percent thought off-site workshops looking at the category would be helpful, with another 17% looking for in-house training courses. Twelve percent believed online training courses would be the most useful, with another 9% favoring video tutorials. The remaining 24% wanted other forms of information on the benefits of biologicals, including 17% that thought case studies/testimonials in print would be beneficial.

More Biologicals Coming GraphicDespite all these obstacles, the future for the biological products category is bright. According to the 2021 survey, 79% of respondents are planning to increase the number of biological products their companies sell to grower-customers during the coming year. Another 20% plan to maintain their current level of spending in this area. Only 1% indicated their companies plan to decrease the numbers/amounts there are currently spending on biological products for the 2021 growing season.

Survey Statistics

The 2021 CropLife magazine Biologicals online survey was sent to readers in January. In total, there were 356 surveys returned with valid answers.

In terms of breakout, 55% of the respondents identified themselves as being ag retailers/cooperatives. Another 19% said that they were consultants or advisors to the industry. The remaining 24% identified themselves as producers/manufacturers/university representatives/researchers.

Region-wise, 35% of the respondents said their companies were located in the Midwest, 20% were in the West, 17% in the Plains, 15% in the Northeast, and 13% in the South. In terms of crops serviced (where multiple answers could be chosen), 82% of respondents dealt with corn, 75% with soybeans, and 64% with wheat.

CropLife magazine would like to thank everyone that took part in this year’s survey. Your insights are appreciated!

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