Packaged Biologicals…Carbon & Biology

Obviously CSI has been a proponent of package biological products for many years. Having tested products over the years, it is apparent that in lieu of or in conjunction with a good quality compost and/or compost tea, inoculating soil and plants with biological inoculums can also provide the basis for improving soil health, plant health, crop quality and yield. Biotech companies pop up every year producing the latest biological products for soil and plants, probiotics for humans and livestock, biologicals to manage sewer and manure lagoons, even biologicals used in cutting-edge biomedical research. The list continues to grow. The world was built with carbon and microbes and that is the basis to fix it. Ignoring this will lead to your farms peril.

Agricultural management, systems and processes over the years have largely ignored carbon and biology. This is evident with the amount of “Recreational” tillage (killing microbes and oxidizing carbon,) application of Nitrogen fertilizers (oxidizing carbon,) and all of the “-cides” that attempt to eradicate ALL of the bacteria, fungi and nematodes which ironically are the foundation of every ecosystem. For everyone’s benefit farmers have begun adopting practices (reduced tillage, less application of “-cides”, etc.) that promote the growth of beneficial microbes thereby sequestering carbon as opposed to losing it.

There are no “Silver Bullets” in the packaged microbial world. The dry microbials tend to have better diversity and shelf life, simply because they remain dormant. For liquids there are limitations on the populations and diversity of bugs that can be “packaged” and that have any useful shelf life due to competition in the jug for resources. There are manufacturers who paved the way with one or two species in a container. Technological advances have proved many more species can “co-habitat” in a container with a “shelf life” long enough to be viable until used (usually 3-6 months.) As a result, some of the pioneers with 1-2 species products have become somewhat obsolete. The new products include those same 1-2 species along with up to sixty additional strains or families. Today there are products that include bacteria, fungi and yeast. From a diversity standpoint, it stands to reason the more diverse the product, the better it can handle different climates, different soil and crops, and different application methods. Some products are bacterial, some fungal, some claim to be both.

Agricultural management, systems and processes over the years have largely ignored carbon and biology.

One of the tried and true dry soluble lines CSI carries is the TerraBiotics/Living Stone Organics line. Each of their products consists of a base of worm castings (diverse microbial inoculant), in addition to other specific microbial strains added according the products desired influence on the soil and plant. Many growers use some semblance of Terra’s Five Touch program including Crop Recycle for residue digestion, Premium Seed Treatment for biological seed inoculation, Growth Plus for the growth and framing stage, Bloom Plus for the blossom stage, and JackPot Plus/K-35 for the filling stage. The latter three products also include the minerals plants require for those specific stages. Dry soluble products aren’t for every operation as they require premixing prior to adding to application tank.

Liquid biologicals are not as diverse as the dry soluble lines. Bacterial inoculums are the most popular liquid biologicals on the market, due to the ease of culturing and stabilizing in a container. Most of these biological products are intended for soil applications. A couple manufacturers have distinguished themselves by producing separate soil and foliar products. They have isolated microbes that are known “soil” microbes and “foliar” microbes and built specific products around this idea. One such company CSI started working with in 2017 is Terraform AG. Terraform Ag is owned by RJ Rant, well known consultant in the Potato Industry in Michigan, as well as a consultant with all types of crops across North America. RJ is a self-trained biological/organic farmer who understands the needs to focus on soil health and began formulating biologicals for his own clients and because of those successes that has evolved into larger scale production.

Terraform Ag’s product line continues to expand but is anchored with the soil product called MicroSpark and the foliar product called MicroLeaf which have both Organically certifiable and non-certifiable versions. Both products contain multiple families of Soil (MicroSpark) and Foliar (MicroLeaf) microbes including bacteria, fungi and yeasts including nitrogen fixers and phosphorus solubilizers. What sets these biological products apart from most of the other liquid biological inoculums is that they are stabilized in organic acids (carbon) which ironically is the very food source to stimulate the microbes. Additionally the Foliar product includes added plant growth promoting compounds. Why the jugs don’t explode with the microbes and a food source mixed together in the same jug is beyond this writer’s comprehension. This is why CSI aligns itself with companies who are on the cutting edge, who have figured out how to mix bacteria, fungi and yeasts in the same container, keep them viable AND stabilize them in a food source.

A bit about organic acids: what are they and what do they do for soil, microbes, and plant nutrition? First and foremost they are an acid, meaning when applied to the soil they etch minerals (fertilizer) from the sand, silt, clay, and applied fertilizers so the plant root can access them. Organic acids are a carbon source with a high calorie count that stimulates the microbial populations. Additionally as a carbon source they help to sequester/stabilize nutrients in the soil. From a biological perspective, scientific data shows a significant increase in population and diversity using organic acids as a bio-stimulant in comparison to fish, sugar, and humic/fulvic acids. The addition of organic acids to soil even without microbes greatly enhances biological population and productivity as shown by CO2 respiration tests. The organic acids can reduce the needs for high levels of additional bio-stimulants like fish and sugars. Terraform Ag also produces stand alone organic acids without much microbial life but with some added mineral nutrition including Zinc, Manganese, Boron and Calcium. These can be used along with Nitrogen to stabilize, Herbicides (if using) to increase effectiveness, and/or as mentioned before to stimulate the microbial system. Those products are CalAcid and ZincAcid, and it should be noted are not currently certifiable for organic producers.

Terraform Ag also has dry biological inoculums both of which are certifiable for Organic production. The first is MicroSpark dry, which is similar to the liquid version only much more stable. Typically this is used by growers using compost teas and liquid extracts and was designed as such. Their dry seed treatment is call MicroMax and has been micronized so it can be applied directly in the seed box. Both of these products contain over 60 different microbes including forms of Bacillus, Pseudomonas, Trichoderma and Mycorrhizae.

The bottom line with biologicals is there are numerous manufacturers and products. Chose the products that make “cents” from a soil/plant health perspective and are a good fit with your application (liquid or dry) tools. There are no “Silver Bullets”, however in most cases adding biology and carbon to a program can move growers to the next level. The manufacturers and distributors that understand WHY! Microbial products work are who CSI associates with, not those that just tout more yield!