By José Nolasco, Strategy & Innovation director in Tradecorp
According to the United Nations, the world population is projected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050. This population growth will escalate food demand to unprecedented levels with potential food scarcity in some areas.
However, the big challenge is not only producing enough food to feed the world. Trends are changing: healthy and safe food demand is also on the rise. Consumers expect and supermarkets demand produce with lower environmental impact and sustainable use of natural resources. Water and farmland are limited. Climate change makes the situation even more complicated, with greater weather variations and multiple stress scenarios impacting crops’ yield.
So, the struggle is not only to feed the planet. There is a much bigger picture: we need to help farmers increase their yield, the quality of their produce and their profitability in a highly unfavourable scenario; and, the severity of this situation will be even more demanding as the population grows.
Facing the real challenge
Irrigation, fertilization, soil management, pests and diseases, among others, are variables that farmers need to consider in their crop management, but these are no longer the main challenges for farmers. Plant nutrition and plant protection by themselves are not enough to achieve the crop’s full potential.
The huge number of unexpected climatic conditions farmers are facing every single year all along the crop cycle, coupled with the dramatic impact on their yield, quality and profitability, is the real matter now. Abiotic stress caused by environmental conditions (frost, temperature, salinity, drought, light, etc.) is strongly impacting the physiology of the plant and affecting the yield and quality of the produce.
Therefore, the new paradigm requires including abiotic stress management as a vital issue in crop management and not taking it as something to be done only when the stress episode is forecasted, or even worse, has already happened. The use of biostimulants is key to facing this challenge: not only do they help plants overcome abiotic stress, boost yield and quality, they also have a major role on Nutrient Use Efficiency.
Biostimulant market growth
In this scenario, there is no doubt of the role of biostimulants in facing the current challenges of agriculture. In fact, the growth of the biostimulant market is a clear indicator of the importance that this segment has gained in the past few years. Different market studies (Dunhan Trimmer, Future Market Insight, Market & Market, Mordor Intelligence, P&S Market Research, Scalar Market Research, Zion Market Research among others) estimate the size of the biostimulant market to be around $2.3 billion in 2020 and reaching more than $3 billion in 2022.
According to the EBIC (European Biostimulants Industry Council), Europe is the largest market for plant biostimulants, where Spain, France and Italy are the main players. North America is dominated by the US, and South America is led by Brazil. The highest growth rates are, nonetheless, expected in the Asia Pacific region, mainly due to the increase in demand from China and India.
The biostimulation market is currently divided into several different categories: amino acids (AA), botanical extracts, humic substances, inorganic products, microorganisms and their lixiviates, and seaweed extracts, where humics, seaweeds and amino acids make up the largest groups.
Even if the market for these products is now growing, there is still an aura of suspicion surrounding them in some cases. This situation is often the consequence of the previous era, when biostimulants were sometimes developed and sold with limited scientific research, negatively impacting the confidence in these products. However, we are optimistic. The situation is changing. The industry is becoming highly specialized, basing its claims in scientific evidence and dispelling old myths, like the old belief that “two good products make a great one”.
Scientific research has proven that each biostimulant category unleashes a specific plant response, triggering concrete genes or metabolic routes. In most cases, routes and modes of action strongly vary from one biostimulant to another, and thus, unfortunately makes biostimulant mixing a complex science. As a result, the development of highly efficient biostimulants cannot be based in just mixing raw materials and ingredients. Without a comprehensive understanding of the specific plant responses that are triggered in plants, biostimulants may not achieve the expected results, nor provide synergistic effects.
Therefore, innovation in biostimulation clearly goes far beyond “mixing ingredients”. It requires gaining in-depth knowledge in the mechanisms at a molecular and genetic expression level, while paying special attention to the analysis of gene expression among other parameters. But, understanding the specific plant responses that are triggered in plants is not an easy task either. If we consider the variety of biostimulant categories, along with the available ingredients, the mixing possibilities are almost infinite. This makes testing a massive undertaking, and almost an impossible job. Thus, developing an appropriate methodology for product screening and assessment is essential.
At Tradecorp, we have diligently worked on these topics for the past years, both trying to understand the mechanisms that are triggered in plants and developing a successful methodology for biostimulant screening and assessing. The next step is to develop specific biostimulant solutions to achieve a more sophisticated performance. However, to select the right biostimulant at the right moment is as determinant as the quality of the product itself. In this sense, Tradecorp proposes a full management strategy throughout the all stress phases (priming, curative and recovery) as a global stress management strategy.
This article was initially published in AgroPages 'Annual Review 2019' magazine. Download the PDF version of the magazine to read more articles.