Bios­tim­u­lants boost crop and soil health

Bios­tim­u­lants are growing in popu­larity, with increasing scien­tific evidence to prove that they work. But for many farmers, the concept remains myth and magic – so what are they really all about?

Agri­cul­tural bios­tim­u­lants comprise a wide range of mate­rials which aim to stim­u­late natural plant processes to boost crop health, enhance toler­ance to envi­ron­mental stresses and ulti­mately improve perfor­mance. And it appears that they really can work.

Scien­tific under­standing of the whole plant and soil micro­biome has advanced rapidly in recent years, so researchers can now iden­tify the impact of certain active ingre­di­ents at different crop growth stages.

Near the quaint village of Brehan in Brit­tany, France, is a state-of-the-art labo­ra­tory and processing facility, where the Olmix Group has invested tens of millions of euros into algae research and inno­va­tion.

Maria Matard-Mann, head of the research project at Olmix

Useful algae

There are more than 9,800 species of seaweed, and many elements in them – like sulphated poly­sac­cha­rides – are not present in land plants, which is what makes them so useful, explains Maria Matard-Mann, research projects manager at Olmix. “As crops don’t recog­nise marine sulphated poly­sac­cha­rides they respond with immune aggres­sion, which improves their resis­tance to stress or disease.”

As crops don’t recog­nise marine sulphated poly­sac­cha­rides they respond with immune aggres­sion, which improves their resis­tance to stress or disease.

Maria Matard-Mann

Combined with micronu­tri­ents, inor­ganic acids, or clay, the prod­ucts can be foliar or soil appli­ca­tions, used at different growth stages for maximum effect. “Algal hormones stim­u­late root growth and nutrient absorp­tion, while biolog­ical acti­va­tors boost humi­fi­ca­tion in the soil. The aim is to comple­ment crop and soil health, combining nutri­tional and biolog­ical activity.”

According to Chris Gamble, commer­cial and strategy manager at Micromix Olmix, there are four key types of bios­tim­u­lant, and it’s impor­tant to use the right one at the right time – there is no one-size fits all. The first are seaweed-based, as produced at Brehan. The second are amino acids, which can be plant or animal based, and which influ­ence the carbon and nitrogen cycle.

Humic and fulvic acids make up the third – these are very biolog­i­cally active prod­ucts from the natural break­down of plants and animals. Finally, there are biolog­i­cals – a range of micro-organ­isms like rhizobac­teria, which can be added to improve the biota of the soil.

Scien­tif­i­cally sound advice

“You can combine any or all of the above,” says Mr Gamble. “But like all chem­i­cals their combi­na­tion can be syner­gistic or antag­o­nistic, so it’s impor­tant to use an adviser who has a genuine scien­tific under­standing of what you’re trying to achieve.”

It’s about working in harmony with the micro­biome and other nutri­ents or plant protec­tion prod­ucts – it’s all inter­linked.

Chris Gamble

For best results bios­tim­u­lants should be used in conjunc­tion with soil and plant tissue testing, he adds. “It’s about working in harmony with the micro­biome and other nutri­ents or plant protec­tion prod­ucts – it’s all inter­linked.”


Improving the soil

Tradi­tional farming prac­tices like ploughing and leaving soils bare have in many cases damaged the soil and depleted its valu­able stores of organic matter. Bios­tim­u­lants can help here, by stim­u­lating soil biolog­ical activity and improving the break­down of organic matter into humus.
Research with Lito­bra­trice Farm in the Czech Republic has shown that treating soil with a humi­fi­ca­tion acti­vator boosted crop rooting, yields and soil water reten­tion over several years.

Yield increase compared to control crop

Crop Yield increase
Spring wheat (2017) 18,7 %
Winter wheat (2018) 11 %
Winter OSR (2019) 23 %

Regu­lating the industry

According to the Euro­pean Bios­tim­u­lants Industry Council, bios­tim­u­lants are a crit­ical to Europe’s sustain­ability, supporting agri­cul­tural and economic growth. However, they are still rela­tively new, so regu­la­tion is just catching up. By 2022 all bios­tim­u­lants should be regis­tered under new regu­la­tions helping recog­nise the role and influ­ence of these prod­ucts.

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