Oct. 27, 2017
The growing global population, increasing need to improve crop yields, and the growing demand for pesticide-free food are expected to drive the demand for biostimulants around the globe.
An increasing desire on the part of consumers to reduce their consumption of chemicals and partake of purer, organically grown produce is pushing growers to produce crops that have no detectable chemical residue. At times, retailers are demanding even less residue than is allowed by law. As demand for residue-free produce has grown, so has the use of biostimulants, and this trend is expected to continue.
Growers also wishing to export their crops must consider the requirements of importing countries which frequently have more stringent residue requirements. Biostimulants have gained significance in this scenario because, in several cropping practices, they are natural materials and complement the use of organic fertilizers and biopesticides. Many are OMRI listed, and they can be utilized under the umbrella of “organic production.”
Biostimulants and their benefits
There are many reasons why biostimulant use is increasing. One of the key uses of biostimulants is to increase the utilization of fertilizers by plants through mechanisms such as nitrogen fixation, phosphorus utilization, or minor element chelation. A variety of microbial and natural products are promoted for this use, and many are used in field crop situations.
Another key use of biostimulants is to increase the quality of the soil by increasing tilth. This is an important use biostimulants to restore quality of overworked soils and increase their productivity. Increasing fertilizer utilization and improving soil quality increase yield.
Another use of biostimulants is to reduce the use of conventional pesticides. Regulators are placing increasing restrictions on some of the toxic and more persistent products and often de-listing products so that the armory of products for use in certain crops is becoming very limited. To replace these materials, growers are increasingly turning to biopesticides.
In some cases, biostimulants can effectively augment the use of biopesticides to help make them as effective as conventional pesticide active ingredients that are lost due to changes in regulatory investigations and standards. Regulators have been tightening restrictions on many pesticides by decreasing residue limits, requiring longer pre-harvest intervals and longer worker reentry intervals. Thus, there is a narrower window for application so that the grower must pay more attention to the timing and application.
The US biostimulants market
One of the difficulties of organic production is the ability to produce crops of consistently high quality. Biostimulants are a key tool in achieving this goal.
The United States is the world’s largest market for organic food with sales over $35 billion/year, but organic food only constitutes 4% of food sales, suggesting that there is still plenty of room for growth.
In the United States particularly, there is the increased demand for organic food. Two thirds of grocery stores now carry “organic” produce and the market for organic food is growing at double digit rates in the United States. Farmers attempt to meet this demand. Their willingness to try new products and approaches is encouraging to biostimulant producers.
The leading biostimulants used are microbials and mixtures of biostimulants accounting for nearly 40% of the total market. Humic and fulvic acids account for an estimated 14% of the market, followed by seaweed and plant extracts and amino acids and protein hydrolysates.
This market for biostimulants is very diffuse with more than 40 different suppliers, many with sales less than $3 million, and more than 400 products. The leading brand of biostimulants is the PPST2030 brand of Rhizobium Inoculant. In fact, seed treatments dominate the list of leading biostimulants by brand sales and look to be an effective way of having them utilized by large acreage. However, the top thirteen brands only account for 35.0% of sales indicating that this is a very fragmented market with many brands and lots of competition. The companies that will succeed in this space will need to have good market access and be innovative.
Among segments that offer the best opportunity for manufacturer are row crop, vegetables, and fruits and nuts, mainly because of the relative immaturity of the organic farming segments, the farmer’s receptivity to alternatives, and the ability of manufacturers to innovate and influence behavior. The high rate for field crops is based on the potential for expanding biological seed treatments further into soybeans and cotton.
The global biostimulants market
Globally, biostimulant product sales are just over $1 billion in manufacturer level sales based on interviews through November 2016 for the previous year. Products based on seaweed and plant extracts are the leading category with almost 30% of sales, followed closely by amino acids and protein hydrolysates and microbes. Not surprisingly, the United States is the largest market for biostimulants, with about 28% of global consumption, followed closely by Brazil with 22%. In the United States and Brazil, the majority of biostimulants are applied to field crops including soybeans, corn, and rice, while in Europe the majority of biostimulants are applied to fruits and vegetables.
The global biostimulants market is growing at about 14% per year lead by Brazil and Europe. However, there are barriers to this segment’s growth that affect manufacturers and developers of biostimulant products, and those that cause agricultural producers not to use biostimulants in their crop production systems.
Barriers for further expansion
There are issues that make the development and marketing of biostimulant products difficult. With the regulatory process in flux, it is often difficult for developers to get firm and consistent responses from regulatory authorities. Some biostimulant products require unique storage requirements or are applied at very high rates, making them difficult to apply or uneconomical for commodity crops. Many biostimulants have subtle crop responses that may be slow or difficult for the farmer to recognize. This is further complicated by the presence of macro or micro nutrients in many products that make it difficult for the farmer to appreciate the biostimulant’s contribution.
In addition, there is a general lack of knowledge about biostimulants and how they should be used by farmers that need to be overcome in order for the segment to experience robust growth. This can be overcome by significant technical support from suppliers and crop extension services.
The in-depth analysis of this highgrowth but challenging market is available through Kline’s Global Biostimulants: An Overview of the Market and Use research.
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