The leader of a top biological firm talks about the tech, the win rate and knowing when things don’t work.
Biologicals. It’s a term farmers are already hearing more about every year as the technology evolves and new products become viable on a commercial level. It hasn’t always been that way, but as the tech evolves and more field testing is done, confidence in these products grows. And that’s just what Tina Sejersgaard Fanoe likes to see.
Fanoe is executive vice president, ag and bioenergy division, Novozymes A/S. The Danish company is the world’s largest biotechnology company and has been marketing biological products to farmers for years. The effort ramped up with the launch of The BioAg Alliance, a marketing partnership between Monsanto and Novozymes to move the needle on new products in the market.
But all that work starts in the lab. “What we do is screen thousands if microbes in the field to determine their benefit to the plant,” Fanoe explained during a recent conversation with Farm Progress. “We’re looking to find what works and what doesn’t work, and with digital technology we’re able to identify more candidates.”
Novozymes remains the research part of The BioAg Alliance, and Fanoe says the work continues. The recent launch of B300 in Acceleron — Monsanto’s advanced seed treatment — shows how microbial science can help boost crop production. The technology — Penicillium bilaiae — helps increase phosphate availability to the plant to enhance root and shoot development.
“This is an example of what microbials can do in the soil to improve plant productivity,” Fanoe says. “That is not always the case, and that’s what we have to determine.”
From lab to field
Use of microbials used to mean a jug or bag of something mixed with seed in the planter and applied. That’s not always the case these days as formulation technology improves. These days a microbial product can be mixed into a seed treatment.
“Our challenge is to get the microbial to remain alive in the presence of other nonbiological chemicals,” Fanoe says. “For B300, that’s what we did. This is part of the Acceleron seed treatment that also includes insecticides. It is a big challenge.” But the final product — a living thing — has at least two years of stability on seed.
The alliance with Monsanto allows Novozymes to develop promising technologies, and then head to the field for real-world testing to see what works. “We’re looking at the win rate for our products,” she explains. It’s a concept farmers will see more of in trial data. For biological products, consistency is important, but at its core this is still a living thing — and performance can vary in different environments.
Higher win rates show the long-term consistency about the potential efficacy of the product.
The company also partners with Boehringer Ingelheim to develop biologicals for the animal health market. Understanding the gut of a monogastric is not entirely different from understanding the complex soil biome in a corn or soybean field. The key is characterizing the microbes at work to determine how boosting their presence can help the intended target, whether it’s a pig or a cornfield.
From Fanoe’s perspective, the promise of biologicals has a long future. While that’s the focus of the company, she’s looking at the development pipeline, where more products that can push up yields are in the works. Farmers will see more out of The BioAg Alliance in the future — and if it’s biological, it will be driven by Novozymes.