Farm biologicals can make our farming system more sustainable: Rabobank

18 Aug 2022

Replacing synthetic pesticides with farm biologicals - crop production products from living organisms – may help create a more sustainable farming system, says a recent Rabobank report.

Farm biologicals, otherwise known as biologicals, are crop production products from living organisms that can be used independently or together with synthetic items, according to the agrochemical international trade association, CropLife International. Biologicals include living microorganisms and organic matter, such as biostimulants, biopesticides, and biofertility, says FoodBytes! by Rabobank in its newly-released food report.

Farm biologicals can make our farming system more sustainable: Rabobank
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A growing need for farm biologicals

Farm biologicals uptake is driven by a combination of factors, including increasing costs, pollution and safety concerns associated with fertilisers and agrochemicals, and a general desire for more sustainable, climate-resilient farming practices.

“Advances in science and biotechnology are providing a better understanding of the plant microbiome, leading to the discovery and development of better performing microbial technologies for nutrient use efficiency, plant health and biocontrol,” says Jane Fife, chief technical officer of the company, 3Bar Biologics.

For farmers and ingredient suppliers

“For farmers, farm biologicals are inputs that support sustainable, regenerative, and GMO-free agriculture,” says Anne Greven, global head of food and agriculture (F&A) startup innovation at Rabobank.

Generally, biological products can lower or eliminate the use of chemical pesticides, Fife says. As a result, these can ensure that minimum residue levels and re-entry restrictions are no longer a concern. Flexibility is vital in today’s agricultural industry, and these biological benefits can provide more effective and agile sales, operations and export processes.

“For ingredient suppliers, these resulting products with sustainability claims command higher prices from consumers,” adds Greven.

Evolving inputs to reduce environmental impact

The environmental impact of existing agricultural practices is spurring new product development, re-envisioning techniques, inputs and technologies. Increased adaptability and resilience are sought after today to combat the rise of climate change and its disruption to crop growth.

Nature-inspired products are in demand in the agricultural space as, increasingly, farmers are looking for alternatives to traditional chemical solutions. Farmers need products, however, that will still cultivate the soil, advance plant resilience and work to improve yields.

Detrimental weather events, such as floods, droughts and insect swarms, require tough crop varieties that can withstand these increasingly prevalent conditions. In European crops, for example, researchers estimate that up to 30% of the long-run increase over time in their yield has been cancelled out by weather’s adverse impact.

Improving global human health

Poor soil can have negative effects on human health, Greven says, citing research on the connections between soil and human health. In the study, the researchers stated we need to improve integration between soil ecology and agronomic crop production with human health, food and nutrition science and genetics. By doing so, we can build industry understanding and development, including bacterial and fungal sequencing capabilities, metagenomics, and the subsequent analysis and interpretation.

“We are just starting to understand the complex interactions that link soil to a range of health factors, such as the quality of our food and the influence on our microbiome’s role in our immune function and absorption of nutrients,” Greven says, referencing a 2020 report by EMBO Reports.

Protecting the future of farming

Moving to more sustainable farming inputs using farm biologicals is a popular way for the agricultural space to overcome current challenges by helping to diversify crops and reduce cost burdens.

“Practices that build back the soil’s biological health create opportunities for improving soil biodiversity and diversification of crops being grown,” says Fife. Recommended practices for improving soil biological health include promotion of crop rotation, use of cultivar mixtures and cover crops, reduced tillage, reduced fertiliser use and application of manure.

Adding beneficial microorganisms such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria and disease-suppressive microbes further supports more sustainable farming practices, Fife adds.

“Farm biologicals also reduce input costs, which if passed on to the ingredient supplier can help undercut their competition while simultaneously meeting consumer demands,” says Greven.

Synthetic biology in the form of gene editing and modification, fermentation and formulation, and the delivery of microbial technologies are also improving microbial performance technology in the field, Fife says. “Consistent performance in the field is critical for wider adoption of microbial technologies,” Fife adds.

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