Competence areas







June 2016

In the spotlight: Biologicals

Finding the real champions

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Farmers have known for centuries that rhizobia are present in almost all soils, but not always in a quantity adequate to establish a sufficient liaison with the legume plant. This is why they transferred soil from one field to another. Today, the seed industry harnesses biological solutions on a large scale. Bayer is working on finding the best strains.
Invisible, natural, environmentally sound, and invented by Mother Nature herself: the process of inoculation gives crops a good start. The mode of action is a mutually beneficial symbiosis between the root of a leguminous plant and a rhizobium bacterium. The bacterium attaches itself to the root of a germinating soybean plant in response to certain stimulants released from the root. The root responds by forming nodules through which the bacteria enter via deformations in the root hair or small cracks between cells in the root. The plant reacts by forming nodules – small bullet-like knots on the root’s surface.

A symbiotic relationship

During this relationship the plant provides the rhizobium with carbohydrates and other nutrients while the bacterium provides the plant with nitrogen fixed from the air to enhance vegetative growth and provide a nutrient essential for photosynthesis. In return, the plant protects the bacterium and provides it with water and nutrients. The symbiotic effect is that the bacterium is protected and fed by the plant while the plant receives nitrogen directly through its root system. Inoculation is a low-cost means of enabling crop efficiency as farmers do not need to add any, or as much nitrogen. Reducing fertilizer applications is good for the farmers’ wallet and, in this case, the crop as well.
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Inoculated for plant’s health

The challenges of inoculation

Farmers have known for years that rhizobia are present in almost all soils, but not always in a quantity adequate to establish a sufficient liaison with the legume plant. This is why they transferred soil from one field to another. “Inoculation in the sense of adding bacteria to the seed just before sowing became a common practice 30-40 years ago,” says Casper van Rooijen, Segment Manager Bayer SeedGrowth™.

In Latin America, inoculating the seed directly before sowing is a common practice among soybean growers. The idea of combining a beneficial living organism with a plant sounds amazingly simple. But it is actually rather tricky to apply the inoculant to the seed in an industrial process: “The challenge is to make it work. What you add to the seed is a living organism that needs to survive as long as possible until it enters its natural habitat, which is the soil.”

Finding the real champions

For this reason, Bayer is working on technologies to extend the lifetime of the inoculant on the seed. “Our target is at least 90 days, which is a very long time for a living organism to survive on a dry seed surface,” Casper van Rooijen says. Furthermore, Bayer is working on improving bacteria strains to identify the ones that are the real champions. “It is like sorting out the runners that can go for a marathon.”
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Finding the real champions

But what advantages does buying buy ready-to-sow seed have for soybean growers over relying on their own skills? “Because it’s all about time and money,” Casper van Rooijen explains. The biggest soybean markets are Argentina, Brazil and the U.S., where farms sometimes encompass hundreds or in Brazil even thousands of hectares. “At the moment, when the weather conditions allow a grower to start planting, his number one priority is to get the seed into the ground as soon as possible.” Moreover, if the farmer himself inoculates the seed on the farm, he needs to have the appropriate equipment to mix the right dose of bacteria and apply it to the seeds.

All about biologicals

Inoculation with rhizobia works with all kinds of leguminous plants, such as peanuts, peas, beans, soybeans, chickpeas, and lentils.

Biologicals have mixed modes of action. They may combine crop protection and crop efficiency. First, many act as a crop protectant agent since they suppress pests or diseases. Second, they stimulate the plant to grow healthier, tolerate stress, and ultimately deliver higher yields. “Combined with chemical crop protection agents, biologicals can contribute to fighting resistances and reducing residues,” Casper van Rooijen says.
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In 2014, Bayer purchased Biagro, an Argentinian specialist in inoculants.

Growth prospects

According to the International Biocontrol Manufacturers’ Association, the global market for biological products is booming with a growth rate of ten percent per year, and thus growing faster than traditional and seed-applied crop protection. For Martin Gruss, Global Head Bayer SeedGrowth™, the next level of yield enhancement will be products that display a crop efficiency effect. “This is why we acquired AgraQuest in California in 2012 as ideal match / perfect complement of our crop protection portfolio.” Two years later, Bayer purchased Biagro, an Argentinian specialist in inoculants.

Established in 1984, Biagro is a well-respected company with 127 employees and a production site at its headquarters in Las Heras, Argentina, as well as in Brazil. Biagro specializes in the production and marketing of highly effective inoculants and biological seed treatments. “Bringing the expertise together, we are able to develop new and more efficient inoculants for legume crops and biologicals for other important crops,” Martin Gruss says. As a result, Bayer has made crop efficiency part of its overall package. “As these biological agents are generally compatible with the chemical products we supply, we are able to bring additional benefits to our customers.”
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