You may be hearing the word biologicals a bit more than usual lately, as more and more farmers and gardeners are rightfully choosing to integrate this concept into their growing methods. Biological pest control involves working with nature directly; while it may take a bit more patience and sometimes a more hands-on approach, the improvement in overall yields, the nutritional content of crops, and the health of both farmer and consumer make it a method worth investing in.
While pesticides and chemical inputs have been the popular route in agriculture for the last several decades, the impact these methods have on our soil, and our health has become impossible to ignore. The market for biologicals is growing at a fast rate and some even speculate that they “have the potential to not only replace chemical pesticides with biopesticides but also to complement or replace agricultural chemical fertilizers, alleviate abiotic stress and increase crop yields”, allowing them to “compete in the $240 billion market for chemical pesticides and fertilizers” (1).
What exactly ARE Biologicals?
While the word is a bit of an umbrella term, its definition is rather straightforward in that it “represents a broad category of plant protection products that are derived from living organisms” (2). From inputs to management systems to biotechnologies, the biologicals market aims to work with our planet’s known natural systems, in an attempt to cause the least amount of environmental harm while obtaining the highest possible results for crop health, yield, and quality.
The use of biologicals takes on a more holistic and preventative approach to agriculture, growing in parallel with the regenerative movement. To get the most from natural solutions, one must consider that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach – and it should be known that all environmental factors must be considered to come up with a plan tailored to each particular grower and their needs.
Biologicals represent a collection of natural tools and technology that benefit growers looking to incorporate more sustainable methods, as they are much safer in general. Biopesticides, biofertilizers, and biostimulants derived from only natural materials are a few examples of biologicals – but they extend beyond these products as well. Biologicals can also include soil amendments, plant extracts, and beneficial insects.
Managing pests while managing expectations
While biological solutions can be implemented to address a variety of specific issues, the purpose for going this more natural route is typically to appease a grower’s desire to implement safer practices that benefit multiple aspects of their growing operation. Unlike chemical inputs or fertilizers that target one specific need, biologicals can offer a greater overall benefit to the farm as they work to solve the issue for which they are being used. That being said, it may take time to see all the benefits that they can bring.
When implementing a biological approach to pests, such as an Integrated Pest Management system – growers must be prepared to have patience and trust the process. Although chemical insecticides may work more quickly, they destroy more than just pests; they can have detrimental effects on the beneficial bugs and pollinators present on your farm, causing imbalances in the soil microbiology which can have long-term negative effects on your crop.
An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system involves a few key components:
- Understanding the environment and weather patterns, soil quality, and the type of pests that are typically drawn to the specific crops that are growing
- Regular monitoring of crops and soil, closely keeping an eye on the variety of pests and the amount in which they are present.
- Creating a planned approach when intervention is deemed necessary and choosing a method that creates the least amount of damage to the environment
An IPM solution can sometimes involve making some tough decisions that can occasionally result in losing a small percentage of the crop. This is not always the case, but the farmer ultimately gets to make the final decisions and must weigh the risks and benefits of each approach.
Introducing beneficial Insects can be an extremely effective way to control pest damage to a crop – as these beneficials will target the specific pest in question, without harming the crop – in some instances they may even add the extra benefit of pollinating or supporting existing pollinators. This approach relies on creating a functioning eco-system on your farm or in your greenhouse, that allows nature’s cycles to be put to work, in favor of the farmer. From aphids to whiteflies, even soil-dwelling pests like root-knot nematodes can be effectively controlled by introducing specific predator insects proven to balance out the pest population. Better yet, beneficial Insects pose no risk at all to humans, unlike harsh chemical insecticides.
As above, so below – Seeing the whole picture of plant health
Taking a holistic approach, of course, involves looking at the big picture – not just focusing on what is above the ground. It is important to consider the pivotal role of soil health in ensuring that crops are as resistant as possible to pest infestations. A healthy ecosystem involves more than just the insects that we can easily see – the vast array of microorganisms in the soil are the building blocks of this ecosystem and must also be kept in balance.
For a plant to be healthy, it must be able to properly photosynthesize. This process is reliant not only on the energy it is absorbing from the sun, but the water and carbon dioxide it is absorbing from the atmosphere and the soil. The energy taken in by a plant during the process of photosynthesis produces sugars that feed the plant by circulating throughout the stem to the foliage, and also passing through the roots. These sugars do not only feed the plant itself, but as they are released in the form of exudates at the root zone. The exudates also provide food for the soil microorganisms. When a plant can properly photosynthesize, it creates symbiotic relationships with soil organisms and in turn, becomes increasingly healthy.
We measure the sugar content of the plant in what is called “Brix Levels” – the higher the Brix level of a plant, the healthier it is deemed to be. A plant with high Brix levels will even look healthier, displaying bright green crisp leaves and a sturdy upright stem with no signs of wilting. Additionally, when a plant reaches a high Brix level, the sugars in the plant become undigestible to many of the insects who would normally feed on that plant – and so they move along to find something more suitable for their diet. In fact, a Brix level of 14 and above “means not just that insects will not attack a given plant but that they will not even be attracted to the plant. In short, pest insects will pass over a high Brix field” (4).
Root your crops in healthy soil
Giving crops the best possible chance to be healthy starts with taking a good look at the soil they are growing in. Another important category of biologicals breaking through into conventional agriculture is soil amendments that contain living microorganisms, as they can work to restore the balance that is needed for proper nutrient cycling. When soil does not contain enough organic matter and biology, nutrients added via synthetic fertilizers can end up washed away into surrounding water systems before even having the chance to be absorbed.
Ensuring that the soil organic matter is present along with a varied population of microbiology, will provide an environment that encourages nutrient cycling, allowing plants to uptake exactly what they need without it leaching into waterways. This can significantly decrease the need for fertilizers or eliminate them entirely over time. Using an amendment that contains humic acid and fulvic acid, which are compounds that occur naturally in soil, will help sustain the soil biology that is already present and encourage it to multiply and thrive.
An amendment like Humic Land™ is especially effective because of how it is produced; Through a process of grinding and cavitation of black peat, without the use of any heat or chemical extraction, the microbial life is maintained and remains present in the final product. The combination of both the organic matter and this native microbiology works holistically to benefit the soil by creating more structure. In many cases, this has been shown to help retain moisture and nutrients that can sustain crops and help to improve their overall health.
Are Biological Products the future of agriculture?
There is no doubt that conventional agriculture practices are shifting. While farmers have always been stewards of the land, taking care to preserve the resources that they manage – the pressure to keep up with demand and unpredictable environmental factors has forced them to adopt certain practices simply to survive. As the effects of these practices begin to take a toll, the agriculture industry is being forced to adapt to more regenerative methods to restore that balance.
As limits are increasingly being placed by governments and export markets on the use of chemicals, growers will need to seek out alternative solutions to ensure that they can stay in business. (5) This puts biological products in a highly sought-after position in the market. It also highlights the importance of looking at the big picture when trying to address problems in the field – instead of resorting to quick solutions that may cause long-term damage.
At Rogitex, our mission is to offer growers the support they need to confidently adopt this holistic approach. Our educational resources, soil analysis program and soil-friendly products allow us to work with growers to build a program geared toward sustainable production that continues to benefit their bottom line. Our highly qualified team is here to help create a strategy specifically tailored to your crop and growing zone, offering our expertise through consultations and trials that are guaranteed to unlock your full growth potential.
Contact us today to request more information on our products and services, and to find out how we can work together to create a better way for a bountiful harvest.