Biostimulant Building Blocks

Helping you adapt to growing uncertainty

Over the past five years the potential resilience and sustainability benefits of biostimulants has captured the attention of the whole industry, becoming the fastest growing segment in ag. But with limited knowledge and experience it is no doubt daunting, and even inconceivable for some farmers, to consider how biostimulants could help them adapt their growing systems to a climatesmart model for the future which is both resilient and profitable. The below explores some key considerations to help you on your biostimulant transition:

Benefits biostimulants could offer you

Biostimulants are natural substances or micro-organisms, that when applied to seeds, plants or the rhizosphere, stimulate natural processes to enhance plant growth, development and overall health. Belonging to the family of fertilising products, they help create stronger, fitter and more resourceful plants which are less vulnerable to abiotic stress and pest/pathogen attack. What’s more, the fact they are derived from natural materials – such as plants, algae and bacteria – their circular nature of origin supports a climate-smart future that is more efficient and less reliant on synthetic inputs. When used appropriately, biostimulants offer a wide range of benefits to plants. Here are some of the advantages you could benefit from:

Faster germination and emergence builds stronger plants from day one
Some biostimulants, such as signalling peptides, applied to the seed promote better seed germination and emergence, setting a stronger foundation for the entire crop cycle. This can be beneficial because chemical seed dressings have the potential to delay crop emergence by several days, whereas trials and farmer feedback have proven seed treated with biostimulants such as Newton, can emerge two days faster than naked seed and four to five days faster over SPD. Getting crops up and away faster results in a stronger more resilient start to the growing season.

Enhanced root development is the root to so many advantages
Building an expansive, more robust root system is the key to optimising resource use efficiency on so many levels and it’s one of the crucial benefits biostimulants can provide. Building an extensive deep rooting network from day one not only creates a more self-sustaining plant that can fully utilise nutrients in the soil, it also puts crops in the best possible position to be able to cope in a drought. Here’s just some of the advantages:
• Increasing the plants retrieval of nutrients from the soil reduces reliance on synthetic fertilisers.
• With increased access to water, heat sensitive crops such as potatoes can maintain transpiration, crucial to yield.
• It could provide the crucial water crops need to survive a drought period.
• It may avoid/delay the need to irrigate crops, conserving water and reducing management costs.
• It helps to ensure nutritional balance, making crops more resilient to pests and pathogen attack.
• Improving the structure and size of roots creates a bigger habitat and food source for beneficial microbial interactions

Improved nutrient uptake
Some biostimulants can enhance the chelation of metal ions making some nutrients – those locked up and unavailable — more absorbable to the plant. This can lead to further improved nutrient use efficiency and better overall plant nutrition.

Supports productivity whilst protecting profitability
The primary goal for many farmers using biostimulants is to improve productivity. Increasing the growing efficiency of the plant, making better use of the nutrition you apply to your fields, combined with the ability to reduce synthetic inputs, all supports this aim.

Supports sustainable agriculture
Derived from natural sources, biostimulants fit well into integrated pest management strategies, supporting a more sustainable approach less reliant on synthetic inputs. Many biostimulants are also compliant with organic farming practices and provide organic and sustainable alternatives for improving crop performance without the use of synthetic chemicals.

Could biostimulants complement your wider programme?

Biostimulants have a lot of potential to benefit your crop management strategy but to get the best out of them you need to consider how to make use of their strengths alongside other inputs throughout the programme. Are there weaknesses in your growing system that biostimulants could help overcome? Consider soils, seed and foliar applications.

Consider using different biostimulant types

Biostimulants encompass a diverse range of substances and micro-organisms that can be categorised into different types based on their composition and mode of action. Each work differently on the plant. No single biostimulant will be able to fulfill all the different benefits you may need in each crop. Consider biostimulant mode of action. Much like crop protection products, incorporating different modes of action into your crop management regime is likely to deliver more effective results, but you should be clear about what the biostimulant offers and how your crop is likely to benefit.

Humic and fulvic acids
Derived from decomposed organic matter, these acids can be used to improve soil structure, nutrient availability and water retention.

Phosphite-based biostimulants
Contain phosphite ions that promote root development and nutrient uptake.

Seaweed extracts
Obtained from various seaweed species, these extracts contain natural growth-promoting compounds such as auxins, cytokinins and betaines. Extraction method and seaweed type can influence both purity and effectiveness so check sources.

Silicon-based biostimulants
Derived from silicon compounds, these biostimulants improve plant structure and provide resistance against biotic and abiotic stresses by enhancing cell wall strength.

Amino acids and peptides
These are organic compounds that serve as building blocks for proteins and play a vital role in various metabolic processes within plants. They can enhance nutrient absorption, promote plant growth and contribute to stress tolerance. Signalling peptides stimulate growth and defence mechanisms in plants and upregulate other growth hormones within plants.

Microbial biostimulants
Consist of beneficial micro-organisms that interact with plant roots and soil to improve nutrient availability and enhance plant health. Examples include mycorrhizal fungi, nitrogenfixing bacteria, and plant-growth-promoting bacteria.

Research and refinethe best options for your system

Identifying the best biostimulant options for your crops is likely to come down to trial and error, but it will also depend on how you are managing your crops and what the biostimulants you choose are being tasked to do. Here are some general guidelines to help you maximise success:

  1. Understand crop and soil needs – Identify the specific needs of the crop and soil. Define a crop and soil action plan to improve resilience and consider how biostimulants could potentially help.
  2. Consider how biostimulants complement other inputs – Think about the weak spots in your crop management programme that biostimulants could address e.g. speed of germination and emergence; rooting; nutrient uptake; vigour; stress tolerance.
  3. Optimise biostimulant application timing and rate – Timing is crucial. Consider these weak spots and when in the crop growing cycle you might be able to influence it for the best result. Timing is crucial and the application should align with key development stages.
  4. Choose the right biostimulant products – Select the biotsimulant type(s) most suitable for the crop need. Ensure biostimulants used are of high quality as efficacy will wary between manufacturers so its important to choose reliable products. Look for data on the product’s efficacy.
  5. Monitor and evaluate – Regularly monitor crop performance and assess the impact of biostimulant application against untreated controls. On-farm trials are a good way to compare product performance on your soils, in your climatic conditions and within your wider inputs plan. Keep in mind that biostimulants can also be used to bring weaker parts of the field up in terms of performance, and here, large tramline trials are a good way of assessing the benefits versus untreated. Adjust product and application strategy based on observations and results to optimise crop yield and to meet your overall objectives.