Agricultural biologicals are either derived from natural materials, contain them, or use naturally-occurring processes to provide a benefit to crop production. They are also a part of our commitment to bringing a broad range of solutions to support farmers.
Each year, farmers make dozens of decisions, each of which can affect how successful the harvest will be. Like deciding which kind of seed to plant, what kind of weed or insect control product to use, and which fungicide is most effective.
What innovations are being made to help farmers?
Two main technologies are at the core of our agricultural biologicals platform: microbials and BioDirect™.
Microbes can be found in nature. For example, soil is saturated with microorganisms, and a tablespoon of soil could contain around 50 billion of them. Microbes have also been used in our food for thousands of years. From bread to cheese, yogurt, beer, wine, vinegar, soy sauce, sauerkraut, injera, kimchi, and even the preparation of chocolate. Our food is delicious thanks in part to the presence and activity of microbes. In agriculture, folks are developing products containing microbes that can be applied to the surface of seeds and complement – or provide an alternative to – chemical agricultural products.
That’s why we partner with Novozymes through The BioAg Alliance, which is dedicated to enhancing research and development of microbial technology to help productivity of crops around the world.
The use of microbial products is one of the important decisions farmers make, and can affect the outcome of a harvest just as easily as decisions farmers have made for decades about things like seeds and fertilizer. For example, farmers can decide whether to use a microbial product that grows on a plant’s roots, which can make nutrients like phosphate or nitrogen more available for the plants and in turn help them grow.
Our second agricultural biological technology is called BioDirect™. We are developing products that engage a naturally-occurring process called RNA interference (RNAi).
RNAi has been naturally present in agricultural traits for hundreds of years. RNAi is responsible for the yellow color of soybeans, for example. But the underlying process was discovered in the 1990s, opening new areas of research in human, animal, and plant health. Cells of animals and plants normally use the instructions from thousands of genes in DNA to make important building blocks like proteins. These instructions are written out in a molecular “recipe” (also known as mRNA).
Like a cook adjusting a recipe for a meal, cells use RNAi to reduce the use of a specific mRNA so that just the right amount of a particular protein is made. RNAi is so specific that it can stop the production of a pigment gene so soybeans are yellow instead of black without affecting thousands of other important “recipes.”
Our researchers and others in the field have learned how to use the biological signals to trigger RNAi for specific genes that can result in better disease and pest resistance, increased yields or improved quality. We believe it will expand choices available to farmers by offering a wide range of applications in the future.