With Ian Scutt: AgLink Australia CEO
Biological inputs within the agricultural industry have gained significant attention in recent years. Market reports project exponential growth, with the global biological market estimated to reach $29 billion by 2029, up from $11.66 billion in 2022. This article explores the reasons behind this surge in interest and delves into the ongoing discussion of conventional chemistry versus biologicals.
Key drivers for increased interest and use of biologicals*:
- Sustainable Agriculture: With a growing emphasis on sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural practices, biologicals provide an alternative to conventional synthetic chemistry, aligning with the demand for reduced chemical inputs and ecosystem preservation.
- Major Investments: The traditional agricultural chemical companies, including Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva, have acquired biologicals companies and labs in recent years, highlighting the industry's recognition of the potential of biological solutions.
- Research and Development: Increased funding has attracted research organizations, universities, and industry bodies to conduct trials and research, resulting in enhanced understanding of biologicals and their application.
Despite the drivers mentioned above, several concerns hinder the widespread adoption of biologicals by the industry. Comparatively to synthetic crop protection chemistry/fertilisers, biologicals often disappoint due to perceived poorer outcomes. Biologicals exhibit variable efficacy based on environmental conditions and formulating products that can survive throughout extended periods of time in the supply chain poses challenges. Additionally, the inherent variability of biologicals, influenced by environmental and metabolic functions of crops and soil, can lead to observable differences in the field following application. These challenges can make it difficult for biologicals to gain the same level of trust from end users compared to the synthetic options.
To date the conversation has centred around ‘conventional chemistry vs biologicals’. A shift in mindset to ‘conventional and biologicals working together’ would be a more productive approach within a crop protection or nutrition program. Along with fertiliser, conventional crop protection chemistry has long been the dominant input in crop production, but the industry is expected to face increasing pressure such as pesticide resistance, manufacturing costs, regulatory constraints, and evolving consumer demands. Embracing innovation and development of biological products alongside conventional practices offers increased possibilities and flexibility for farming systems.
Whilst biologicals possess significant potential through increasing market demand, the industry to date has encountered challenges in training, education, and understanding their application in farming operations. Overcoming these challenges is crucial for mainstream integration into conventional farming systems. Therefore, trusted advisers from agricultural companies bringing reliable biological products to the market and continued learning within the industry are instrumental in dispelling misconceptions and enhancing acceptance.
The use of biologicals is expected to rapidly increase within the global agriculture sector, and over time, will play an integral part of sustainable farming systems. Importantly though, an open mindset to embracing both conventional chemistry and biologicals as part of an integrated approach to crop protection and nutrition is needed for both to co-exist.
* The term "biologicals" refers to living organisms used for pest control or stimulating effects on plants.