Success with Biologicals Starts with Optimizing Your Soil Fertility

Phil Long, Precision Agronomy Specialist

Precision Agronomy Advisor, Phil Long

One reason Latham Hi-Tech Seeds opened its Premier Agronomy Center on the Latham family’s Iowa Century farm was to collect data using real-world practices and to research solutions for real-world problems. More farmers are interested in biologicals to reduce fertilizer and other input costs and/or to build soil health.

A biological product, or biofertilizer, contains living microorganisms that promote fertilizer efficiency or plant growth. Most of these products are naturally occurring in the environment but likely do not occur in high amounts in your field.

At Latham’s Premier Agronomy Center in 2022, we used Pivot Bio PROVEN® and Azotic Envita® on corn. Both nitrogen-producing bacteria products were trialed on a large scale and applied in-furrow with LH 5245 VT2 PRO RIB. PROVEN yielded 213.1 bushels per acre (bu/A), and Envita yielded 208.1 bu/A while the untreated LH 5245 yielded 206.2 bu/A. (Also please note that I applied about 40 lbs per acre less nitrogen on all the biological products, so I saved about $20 to $30 per acre when accounting for the product cost.) We have seen similar past results with PROVEN on our farm despite the dry conditions we have had. Envita also may be sprayed over the crop in-season — a process that our team will try in 2023.

Another biological/foliar product that I’ve used on my own farm for soybeans is BW Advance from BW Fusion. This product has foliar nutrients plus biologicals. When applied around soybean reproduction time, it can help reduce flower and pod abortion plus reduce moisture loss during drought stress. It takes about a 1.5 bu/A yield increase to pay for the product at current soybean prices. In 2022, I saw an average of 2.3 bu/A advantage. Keep in mind, 2022 was very dry and this particular field has some underlying fertility issues.

If you are going to try biologicals, you must take care of pH and other soil fertility deficiencies. The microbes in your soil, especially bacteria and fungi, thrive based on proper pH and physical soil environment. For example, if you have a pH of 5.0 or heavily compacted soils, you’re not going to see a boost in soil life until you correct those issues.

This year I used two foliar/soil-applied products, Midwest Bio-Tech’s Chandler Soil and TerraMax’s Ag Soft. The goal of these products is for compaction alleviation and residue management. I’m using these products on our cover crop and no-till plots. During the next few years, I will share results and show any soil structure changes. We also use seed-applied products, including Talc U.S.A.’s Microsurge inoculant and Encompass, as well as TerraMax’s Vertex and Micro MX.

How will we know which products may benefit our farm the most? Our plan is to try them! I will share soil health tests and how they can aid us in continuing to decipher the complex world of biologicals.

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