The introduction of synthetic chemicals to the agriculture industry revolutionized crop production, helping growers scale their operations, control pests and increase yield, all to meet the needs of a growing worldwide population.
Today’s grower faces even more demands on yield, and there is an even more critical eye on how crops are produced. Growers need more tools to help them cope with increased pest pressure, manage resistance and meet the needs of today’s consumers. Full realization of the potential of biorational products is the next critical step in the evolution of sustainable production agriculture.
Biorational products are a specific category of biologicals that include a broad range of substances used in agriculture, public health and forestry. They are typically derived from natural or biological origins and include biological pesticides, plant growth regulators and beneficial microbes and materials used in in rhizosphere for plant and soil health benefits. Biorationals are highly specific in their activity while delivering distinct benefits.
The Valent organization’s decades of experience in the biorational market makes it a worldwide leader in the research, development and commercialization of low-risk, environmentally compatible technologies and products for agriculture that produces products with the end-grower in mind.
The Beginnings of a Biorational
At the newly opened Valent BioSciences Biological Research Center (BRC) in Libertyville, IL., scientists are discovering and testing microorganisms for their potential use in commercial agriculture. Warren Shafer, Ph.D. Vice President of Global R&D and Regulatory Affairs at Valent BioSciences, says that while there are some high-level similarities between the development of a biorational and a synthetic chemical, it doesn’t take long to recognize that biorationals require a unique approach and mindset when it comes to the discovery, development and registration of new products.
“A key point of differentiation for biorationals is the production process. Unlike synthetic chemicals, biorationals are typically produced through fermentation,” Shafer says. “The production of biorationals involves figuring out how to ferment a microbe; encouraging it to grow at a fast pace; and harvesting and processing it in a manner that ultimately yields an efficacious product.”
Long before the production process begins, a commercial biorational product generally starts with the discovery of a single microbe.
Shafer says Valent BioSciences works with microbes from a variety of sources, such as isolates from soil and marine collections. To determine if a particular microbe has commercial possibilities, Shafer says the team at the BRC has an established set of bio-assays, or efficacy tests, to screen for desirable activities, such as controlling an insect or disease.
Shafer says new potential products can fail at any point along the development path, which is one reason why it’s important to have robust bioassays throughout the process that are meaningful.
“Meaningful” means that the screening process needs to test the microbes in scenarios that reflect real world experiences to ensure that the future products will work for growers.
From A Single Microbe to Large Scale Production
The time it takes Valent BioSciences to move a biorational product from discovery to commercialization depends on a number of factors, but in general it can take anywhere from 5 to 8 years. Below is an example of how a biorational product moves through the process.
Value of Biorationals to Today’s Grower
With stakes at an all-time high for growers, biorationals are receiving even greater levels of recognition around the world because of the value they can bring to the industry for both conventional and organic farming operations.
Frequently used alone or in conjunction with traditional chemistry, biorational products improve crop quality and productivity with low impact on the environment. Biorationals can fit in all types of operations, from conventional to organic, as a tool to help growers meet their own sustainability goals.
“Biorationals help growers create value on farm and in the supply chain,” Shafer says. “They can be an important partner in disease prevention or insect control by replacing synthetic chemicals for growers trying to achieve organic or sustainable certification or to reduce chemical residues prior to harvest. Biorational products also can be used in rotation with synthetics to manage resistance.”
Furthermore, crop enhancing biologicals such as plant growth regulators serve as valuable stand-alone crop production tools to regulate harvest timing in tree fruit and extend the pollination window in almonds, among other uses. Other biologicals like mycorrhizal fungi consortiums improve nutrient efficiency, drought tolerance and enhance plant health.
New microbes and their untapped potential for agriculture as a biorational crop protection or enhancement product are waiting to be discovered to help growers add to their toolkit and take the next step for their operations.