While not a cure-all, a new generation of biologicals is earning more respect. One unique aspect of biologicals is that unlike chemical inputs, designed to solve a pest control or nutrient deficiency, a number of biologicals do that and more. Quantifying multiple benefits can be difficult. Ballad Plus, an AgraQuest legacy product labeled for both corn and soybeans, is a good example of a product that provides disease control, and improves plant health and yield, suggests Marcus Meadows-Smith, head of Biologics, Bayer CropScience.

“We recommend Ballad Plus alone or as a tank mix with the strobilurin chemistry,” Meadows-Smith says. “Our products, for the most part, are beneficial bacteria that produce metabolites that offer a level of control equivalent to chemical products. However, because of interaction with the plant, some microbial products produce secondary metabolites that stimulate growth of a larger root system and very compelling yield increases.”

Marrone’s fungicide Regalia is based on plant extracts and offers another example of synergistic impact. Duke Palasini, Palasini Farms, Leland, Miss., reported positive results using Regalia with Quadris. He saw similar benefits using Regalia with Headline.

He aerially applied an 80-acre soybean field with Quadris on half and a combination of it and Regalia on the other half, he recalls. “The Quadris alone yielded about 59 bu./acre, and the combination yielded 64-65 bu./ acre. The two worked real well.”

According to Marrone, initial research suggests that Regalia may boost plant proteins, benefiting yield as well as fighting disease. Aggressive research efforts with new technologies are not only explaining how microbes and plant extracts work, they are also uncovering countless new potential crop protectants and growth promotants.

“If you go back 20 years, there was an understanding of the soil-microbe interaction, but not the analytics,” says Trevor Thiessen, president, Novozymes BioAg. Today a genome map costs a fraction of what it initially cost, he says. This has opened the door to understanding how a microbe functions and reacts in the soil. We are better able to exploit the genetics of the organism.”

Thiessen points to other advances, such as bioanalytic screening and microbe manipulation, that parent company Novozymes has developed for enzyme research. “Our rate of knowledge is growing exponentially as we understand these techniques,” he says. “In any given month, we screen hundreds of thousands of mutants or microbe variants in our collection.”

Meadows-Smith points to the level of research large companies bring to the table. “Bayer CropScience is investing $6.4 billion in research from 2011 to 2016, with increased focus on seed and biologicals,” he says. “We aren’t replacing synthetic chemistry. Biologicals are complementary and synergistic to seed and chemical controls, providing integrated and superior solutions. We have products in the pipeline that will help plants overcome abiotic stress issues like drought.”