Soil is a complex ecosystem where plant roots, microbes and other organisms bind minerals and organic matter together into a dynamic structure that regulates nutrients, water, air and other resources.
Soil health for agriculture typically refers to the soil’s ability for good agricultural productivity and environmental protection. Healthy soil provides multiple functions to facilitate crop growth and development through nutrient cycling, regulation of other living resources supply, and biocontrol of pests. Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy plant, a precondition to support agricultural productivity and sustainability.
Soil management practices can alter its health. Agrochemical giants and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been investing heavily in supplying products to improve the soil’s physical, chemical, and biological properties. In addition, they have announced different tools with specific functions in 2021-2022.
Specific microbes, one of the most efficient agents to solubilize soil Phosphorus
Phosphorus (P) plays a crucial role in plant growth and development. It is a structural component of many coenzymes, phospho-proteins and phospholipids, and is involved in the transfer and storage of energy for physiological activities. However, P is a major growth-limiting nutrient. Unlike nitrogen, there is no rich atmospheric source biologically available. There is abundant P in the soil, but plants take up soluble orthophosphate (H2PO4-and HPO42-), while the insoluble forms, taking up over 95% of the total P, cannot be utilized by them.
To increase plants availability, growers apply a significant amount of P fertilizers to the soil, leading to low use efficiency as they are adsorbed on the soil minerals, or get precipitated with Al3+ and Fe3+ in acidic and Ca2+ in calcareous or normal soil. This together with the rising fertilizer prices, creates the demand for fertilizer alternatives to increase the P use efficiency. In addition, certain microbes are considered one of the most efficient agents to solubilize P in the soil. Several microbial formulations have been launched these two years.
Bacteria-based ZOATIN, launched by UPL in India, solubilizes unavailable forms of phosphorous in the soil. Extensive trials have demonstrated that it improves root development, water use efficiency and crop resilience against stresses, such as drought. ZOATIN can be applied to a range of crops, including corn, rice, potato, pulses and vegetables.
In Brazil, De Sangosse launched soil conditioner SC5, which contains Pseudomonas thivervalensis strain SC5. The strain SC5 can produce gluconate, a major organic acid involved in the solubilization of mineral phosphate and other compounds such as ZnO. The bacteria also produce extracellular phytase, alkaline phosphatases and other enzymes involved in organic phosphate solubilization.
There are more products with the function of P solubilization. XiteBio Technologies Inc. has launched XiteBio Yield+ and XiteBio OptiPlus in the United States and Canada. Moreover, products formulated with Bacillus subtilis also solubilize P and improve its availability for plants.
Bacillus amyloliquefaciens act as both fertilizer and pesticide
Bacillus amyloliquefaciens (BA) are common in soil ecosystems worldwide, actively at rhizosphere, and can be found naturally on fresh produce. We are frequently exposed to these bacteria. BA are not known to produce any toxins that affect mammals or plant growth.
Acting as both a fertilizer and pesticide, BA offer multiple benefits to crop production. BA consume organic matters secreted by plant roots and produce some substances that can be utilized by plants and boost their growth. These bacteria optimize nutrient availability, including the solubilization of phosphorus and potassium, as well as produce siderophores to acquire iron. BA also secrete phytohormones and volatile organic compounds that felicitate plant cell growth and root development, which will further enhance nutrient absorption. In addition, BA compete with pathogens for nutrients and produce cyclic lipopeptide, polyketide and other substances against pathogens. They also reduce the number of nematode egg masses and inhibit the hatching of eggs, which reduces nematode damage to crops.
BA are one of the most prospective bacterial species for plant growth facilitation, and several agrochemical giants and SMEs have registered and launched related formulations over the past two years.
Serifel provided by BASF contains the BA strain MBI600. BASF received label expansion in Canada, making Serifel available for use on potatoes to control early blight (Alternaria solani), and partially control soilborne rhizoctonia stem canker or black scurf (Rhizoctonia solani) in-furrow. Serifel can also be used on a range of fruiting, leafy, root and cucurbit vegetables, in conventional or organic farming. According to BASF, as a pure spore formulation, Serifel is the most highly concentrated biological fungicide on the market, with at least 5.5 x 1010 viable spores per gram being contained in the product, being effective at low application rates.
Bayer has received registration in China for Serenade SC, which is based on the BA strain, QST713. The product was registered in the country for the first time in 2019 as a biofertilizer. Its extended registration was approved for application to more crops in 2021, followed by its registration as a biofungicide later in the year, making the strain QST713, a product that can be used as both a bacterial fertilizer and pesticide in China. Bayer plans to use it for a wider scope of applications, covering the control of potato scab and other pathogens.
Koppert has launched the biological nematicide, Veraneio (BA UMAF6614 Universidad de Málaga), in Paraguay. The product is used as a seed treatment to control Pratylenchus brachyurus, Meloidogyne incognita and Meloidogyne javanica. Veraneio has shown good results in controlling nematodes in soybean. A study carried out in 46 experimental fields during the 2020/21 harvest in Brazil showed that Veraneio increased soybean productivity by up to 2.4 bags/ha when applied with the biofungicide and bionematicide, Trichodermil (Trichoderma harzianum).
BA can be applied with other microorganisms for soil health, and some companies have launched co-formulated products mixed with BA and other beneficial microbes. Protege, launched by ADAMA in Brazil, is based on BA, Bacillus thuringiensis and Bacillus velezensis, and is used as fungicide and nematicide mainly for soybean and sugarcane crops. NutriWise, launched by Performance Nutrition, contains BA, Bacillus megaterium, Bacillus subtilis, Trichoderma harzianum and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, as well as humic acids, iron and zinc, enabling it to improve nutrient use efficiency, soil fertility and soil environment for beneficial microbes.
Another product based on BA is biofungicide Bactel, launched by Dillon Biotecnologia in Brazil.
Digital technologies transform the decision-making capabilities of growers
The development of mobile technologies, remote sensing and computing technologies will increase growers’ access to the information about their soils and plants, helping them adjust farming practices in a timely manner.
Syngenta unveiled Interra Scan, one of the world’s highest-resolution soil mapping services, at Fields of Innovation 2022. The service provides precision soil analysis with high-resolution soil mapping of up to 27 layers of data on soil health. Growers can access high-resolution maps by computers via the Interra Scan platform. The system can reveal all common nutrient properties, including pH, soil texture, organic matter, carbon, cation exchange capacity, elevation and plant water availability, totaling over 800 data reference points per hectare. All the information helps growers optimize crop nutrition and soil health. Compared to other soil scanning tools, it enables a much-wider operating window for soil scans. Moreover, growers have flexibility when using the tool as it is not affected by soil moisture, compaction, crop cover or cultivation conditions. This service will be initially available to continental and eastern European growers.
In addition, Syngenta has launched the world’s first commercial digital tool to detect plant-parasitic nematodes in soybean crops by analyzing photographs taken from satellites. The tool utilizes a proprietary algorithm to analyze images of fields obtained by satellites, in order to identify areas of high infestations of harmful nematodes in crops, as well as estimate potential losses caused by them. Benefiting from this, growers can quickly optimize their use of inputs to minimum yield loss. Syngenta will initially provide this service in Brazil, the world’s largest soybeans producer, and there is also a great potential to release this solution in other countries.
Futureco Bioscience launched Genomaat, an innovative service that provides soil microbiome data, analysis and tailor-made microbial solutions to global markets. Genomaat utilizes high throughput technology to break down the soil biodiversity complexity into meaningful bio-functional parameters, uncovering the relationship between soil health and overall field performance. After a functional diagnosis, Genomaat will offer microbial solutions based on the company’s unique collection of microorganisms or the native flora of an analyzed plot, followed by an evaluation of improved functionality. It optimizes microenvironmental balance and facilitates the establishment and persistence of a proactive microbiota, leading to sustainable yield increases.
Table 1. Companies below have registered/launched formulations for soil health in 2021 and 2022
This article was initially published in AgroPages magazine 2022 Market Insight.