Pesticides, fertilizers derived from microbes offer new frontier in agriculture

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Chemicals are out. With today’s food politics, the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that fantastically increased agricultural yields in the 20th century are looking…not so hot. So instead of synthesizing new chemicals, ag companies are trying out a new strategy: They’re looking to nature for inspiration.

Where in nature? Just about anywhere—in plant extracts, in soil microbes, in spider venom. . . . Whether pesticides or growth stimulants, carefully-designed, naturally-derived products are the current agricultural darlings, attracting both startups and heavyweights like Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont by the billions of dollars.

. . . . The hard part is finding the one or two or even ten useful microbes out of billions that live in a handful of soil.

How do you solve that problem? If you’re Monsanto, you throw a ton of money at it. In a partnership with Novozymes, Monsanto is testing 2,000 bacteria isolated from soil around the world. The company is looking for bacteria that can keep insects, weeds, and fungi at bay, along with bugs that might boost the growth of the plant. . . .

Smaller companies like BioConsortiaNewLeaf Symbiotics, and Indigo Agriculture have also proliferated in the race to find biostimulants, which like fertilizers boost plant growth but are not synthetic. . . . There’s a reason small companies see an opening: Biostimulants are lightly, if at all, regulated by a patchwork of state laws instead of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

. . . .

Despite all the enthusiasm about biologicals, screening thousands of microbes is basically an expensive fishing expedition. “The challenge is the gap in basic knowledge,” says [says Sara Paulson, an analyst at the market research firm Lux Research].

Read full, original post: Good Riddance, Chemicals: Microbes Are Farming’s Hot New Pesticides

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