Home-United StatesKeep an open mind about biologicals

Keep an open mind about biologicals

Are you applying any biologicals? If not, you probably will soon as their use is growing rapidly. The product volume for biologicals is currently small, particularly on the large-scale commodity crops where conventional or synthetic chemicals dominate. However, new technologies are announced every week, and many chemical manufacturers focus large amounts of resources on this market. Experts expect the market size to double by 2020, reaching 12 percent of the total crop protection market.

What are biologicals?
Biologicals cover a diverse array of product types including biopesticides, biostimulants, and biofertilizers. They can be microscopic and macroscopic living organisms, products derived from living organisms, or naturally occurring chemicals.

Biologicals are used for the same reasons as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, to increase yields and reduce crop stresses. The upsurge in their use is due to increased consumer interest in how their food is grown and growers looking for “softer” approaches to manage pests and soil fertility, particularly in systems that are safer to the environment.

Biologicals have been around for a long time. One of the most widely used, Bt, was discovered in 1901. Bt can be very effective but does act slowly with a short-residual, is degraded by direct sunlight, and needs to be applied when insects are small and in their most vulnerable stage.

Biopesticides include bioinsecticides, biofungicides, and bioherbicides. Many perceive biopesticides as the natural way to control pests with limited or no adverse effects on the environment or beneficial organisms. Biopesticides are urgently needed in organic agriculture because of the lack of economical and effective pest management chemicals.

The largest two classes of biopesticides are microbial biopesticides, including microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and biochemical biopesticides, including pheromones, hormones, naturally occurring plant growth regulators, and enzymes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 430 biopesticide ingredients were registered in 2014, up substantially from 245 in 2008.

Biostimulants are also growing rapidly. They can contain microorganisms or biochemical compounds (e.g., organic acids, proteins, enzymes) as their primary functioning components to enhance nutrient use efficiency. Biofertilizers are a sub-group of biostimulants and can be any fertilizer of biological origin.

One idea behind biostimulants is that soil biology has been largely ignored with the use of synthetic fertilizers and that increased attention soil microbiology can be beneficial. Biostimulants interact with the soil chemistry to increase the availability and uptake of mineral nutrients from soil and crop residues by:
Fixing atmospheric nitrogen in the soil and root nodules of legume crops,
Solubilizing the insoluble forms of phosphates, iron and aluminum phosphates,
Scavenging phosphate from soil layers,
Producing plant hormones and other substances that promote root growth, and
Increasing decomposition or mineralization of soil organic matter.

Possible Advantages

Biopesticides are perceived by the public and governmental regulators as inherently less toxic than synthetic pesticides. They tend to be much more species specific than the broad activity commonly observed with synthetics.

Biopesticides can be effective in small quantities and decompose quickly, thereby minimizing any effects on non-target organisms and the environment. Many have very short or no harvest intervals re-entry restrictions, a huge advantage for growers who want to treat for pests shortly before harvest to meet consumer demands for blemish-free produce.

The EPA encourages the development of biopesticides by not requiring as much data to register as synthetic pesticides. New biopesticides can be registered in less than a year, compared to more than three years for synthetics. When used as a component of Integrated Pest Management programs, some biopesticides can replace the use of synthetic pesticides.

Potential Disadvantages

The biggest barrier to the adoption of biologicals is the general belief that they do not perform as well as synthetics. This perception is slowly changing as scientists develop better understandings of how biologicals work and major synthetic pesticide companies introduce their own products.

Applicators have a tendency to use biopesticides the same way as synthetic pesticides, but most biologicals need to be used differently. The ingredients in biologicals, particularly ones with living organisms, tend to be more labile and not survive long-term storage or harsh tank-mix environments as well as synthetic chemicals. Biologicals also tend to have tighter application restrictions with respect to growth-stage and environmental conditions.

Biopesticides are used mostly in specialized high-value small-acre food crops, but there are a few exceptions. One example is Poncho/VOTiVO® seed treatment that is used on 100 million acres of corn, soybeans, and cotton yearly. Its bacterial strain grows with the young roots to create a living barrier against nematode damage. Another is Contans®, a biological fungicide to control white mold in a range of crops. More broadacre applications are needed for the industry to meet its high growth expectations.


The use of biologicals is growing rapidly in response to societal demands for “softer” approaches to pest management and soil fertility with less perceived risk to humans and the environment. Some with low use rates and narrow application windows will be ideal for aerial application. With education and adaptability, you likely will be able to incorporate them into your product offerings in the near future for more diverse services.

For more information on adjuvants and aerial application, contact John Garr at 765-395-3441, mrfoam1@garrco.com or visit www.garrco.com.







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