Healthier plants produce more seed

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

First, I want to start off by thanking everyone for the overwhelming response to my last article about Biologicals. After speaking with many of you and reading your emails, it is clear that this is a technology that's of great interest to farmers. And it should be, because of the dramatic impact that biologicals can have upon your yields. Below, I am going to cover a few of the questions that you have asked me.

Question: Can you narrow down Biologicals to one paragraph for me?

Answer: I can definitely do that. In fact, I can narrow it down to one sentence. Here it is. "Healthier plants produce more seed." That's it! It's not magic. Let's compare plants to humans for a moment.

It's an indisputable fact that the planet earth is experiencing a rapid increase in population, growth like we've never seen before in history. The reason for this is that the past 150 years have given creation to significant medical advances resulting in "healthier humans" who live to produce more healthy humans (i.e., more seed). Generally speaking, medicine has removed the diseases from the environment that have traditionally killed humans and stunted their seed producing capabilities, giving rise to a whole population of healthier, more productive people. And so it is with plants! Healthier plants produce more seed.

Biologicals can be compared to medicine... medicine for plants! They are natural organisms found in nature that do specific things to improve the health of a plant and its environment. Just like "healthier humans produce more humans," so it is that healthier plants produce more seed. That means higher yields for your crops.

Question: Aren't there already chemicals that can make a plant healthier and do what Biologicals can do?

Answer: Yes and no. There have been a few chemicals created that contribute to plant health. The problems associated with those chemicals are two-fold: 1) high cost; and 2) as in human medicine, chemical formulations are often just altered natural elements. Altering them from their original state allows manufacturers to have patents awarded upon their products. Once they're altered, side effects can be introduced and their effectiveness can dwindle. Biologicals are all about natural organisms, as opposed to chemically synthesized organisms, that make plants healthier and enable them to produce more.

Beyond those factors, biologicals researchers are finding thousands of beneficial organisms doing things to plants that chemicals can't do. They have taken a whole new approach to research and development, and in some ways, are years ahead of the big boys. Keep in mind that we are at the very front of biologicals research and technology and innovation is starting to take off on a rapid pace. I expect to see some very exciting discoveries with regard to biologicals and plant health in the times ahead.

Question: You say they are "finding" organisms. How does that work?

Answer: Envision biologicals researchers like the miners from the Gold Rush Days in the 1800s. These scientists are literally searching through plant extracts and putting plants through fermentation processes as they seek out these naturally-occurring organisms. Once found, these organisms are harvested and put through tests to see if they contribute to plant health or not, and if so, what do they do. After extensive research of any one particular organism and its health-boosting capabilities, it is then commercialized and made available to growers.

In some cases, researchers are discovering that combining multiple different organisms together have an exponentially more powerful impact on a plant's environment and health than one organism does by itself. Imagine an entire biologicals football team's defensive line going to battle to protect and defend your plant against diseases. That's exactly what we're seeing happen within the biologicals community.

Question: What are the ways that Biologicals can be applied to crops?

Answer: There are a number of ways that biological treatments can be applied to your crops. As with any treatment, the effectiveness of the various applications depends upon your crop, your location, your soil conditions and the timing of the application.

1) Applied as a treatment to fertilizer, which is then broadcast to the soil. This process is known as sparging. This is when fertilizer granules are coated with a biological formulation and then dried onto the fertilizer. The fertilizer is then broadcast to the ground where moisture causes the organisms to activate and draw down into the soil, creating a healthier environment for plants.

2) Applied as a treatment to seed, prior to planting. Treated seed has become quite popular in the past few years. Here, the same concept applies as with the fertilizer treatment except that the biological formulation surrounds the seed itself and delivers its health boosting compounds to the seedling during emergence. This process relies on adequate moisture to get to the seed before emergence can occur.

3) Applied directly into the row either underneath the seed, to the side of it or on top of the seed during planting. This process is the most effective of the first three I've listed. The reason being that the biological formulation is placed precisely within the seed bed in a liquid state that provides both moisture and health-boosting organisms. A healthier, protective environment combined with moisture is the best recipe for a strong emergence.

Incidentally, I have personally done a lot of research and seen the power of putting health and moisture into the row. I mentioned in my last article that all of my planters are configured for in-furrow treatments. The research is clear that a strong emergence is the first step in having a strong yield. There's no way around that. In-furrow biological application is one of my preferred methods.

4) Foliar is the process of applying the product to the plant's leaves during various stages of development. This process is where you deliver a biologicals formulation to the plant's leaves and stems with a spray application. I have found there are two important biological foliar applications that have the biggest impact upon a soybean plant's health. Using just foliar applications, without in-furrow, I am personally seeing anywhere from an 8 to 12 bushel increase and sometimes more, depending upon growing conditions and genetics. During these next couple of years I am going to be doing a great deal more research with foliar-applied Biologicals. If my current results are the starting point after only 5 years of testing, I am confident that there is more yield to be had with the development of new microorganisms.

Question: John, what do I do now?

Answer: As growers, we are all participants in this biologicals gold rush. It's a fact that we all want bigger yields from our ground. And there is no reason to try and figure all of this on your own. My program may not be the same as your program. In fact, I'm sure it's not. But that's one of the great things about Biologicals. Increased plant health and higher yields can be had by anyone, no matter what your program. With that said, I want to hear from you! Contact me at 816-773-6018 or

By sharing our research and our programs, and by setting up test plots and then researching some more, we all benefit from the advancements in agricultural technology. In the end, I want us all to work together to build a community of knowledge and experience that results in higher yields for all of us.