By Allison Jack, Ph.D
Product Technical Manager at NewLeaf Symbiotics
I still remember the shock of seeing over 30 agriculture biological companies lining the convention hall at 2020 Commodity Classic.
As the team at NewLeaf Symbiotics® and I prepared for the annual trade show – which hosts thousands of row crop growers from across the country – we were expecting only a handful of biological companies to be present.
But that wasn’t the case.
In 2020, NewLeaf entered the ag biologicals market with Terrasym®, a new class of biologicals that infuses plants with naturally occurring microbes M-troph-based bio-complement technology. Since discovering Terrasym, we’ve launched pipeline products for corn, soybeans, peanuts, and other crops and entered our first commercial growing season in 2020.
What was once an industry exclusive to specialty crop growers, row crop growers are starting to understand – and embrace – the benefits of ag biologicals. While these growers may have been skeptical about biologicals in the past, data-backed research has proven that they’re future of agriculture.
That means the market has been flooded with more competitors – and agronomical growers are becoming skeptical of product claims not backed by data.
Back at Commodity Classic, a particular conversation about this stood out to me. As I was working our booth, an overwhelmed grower approached me and said, “Look, I know one of these probably works. But there are 30 of you at this trade show. How do I know which one is going to actually work, and which one is going to have unsubstantiated product claims?”
Growers are skeptical: Before adopting a new product into their production system, they want to know if it will increase performance on small plots. That’s why it’s important for companies to develop that data and make it readily available.
As the ag biologicals market continues to grow, NewLeaf Symbiotics is changing the industry by conducting trials across large and small plots, making its data transparent, and collaborating closely with growers to develop true partnerships
For the past five years, NewLeaf has collected data of field trials on some of our products in small-scale, randomized plot design trials with our network of contract research organizations.
Terrasym achieved a 3.8 bu/A in 70% of trials – results we were proud of. But we knew we wanted to continue gathering data so we could provide growers looking to try biologicals with specific win rates across fields. That way, growers could be more confident that Terrasym would perform on their plot.
To do that, we approached IN10T® FarmerTrials® with a big idea: What if we had the ability to go to a grower’s field, rip up plants, and collect data on how Terrasym performed in the field?
They were on board. Now, we were able to work side-by-side with growers; instead of simply hearing their feedback on how Terrasym performed, we dug up 10 plants per farm, washed them, set up a specimen photography lab with an agronomist, and studied photos for root phenotyping.
This gave NewLeaf a massive data set and the ability to study if results we compiled from greenhouse studies were reflective in the field.
For example, Terrasym 408 for Soybean’s performance in small-scale plots was 3.8 bu/A, but 2.0 bu/A in large acreage comparisons. This ensured that the claims we made were valid for actual production environments.
To further let growers feel confident in Terrasym claims, we made our data set public so potential customers had every assurance in using Terrasym on their crops.
At first, it was a daunting idea: Before starting the trials, we knew we wanted to make all data sets public, but the prospect of reporting less than desirable results was nerve wracking.
But we knew this transparency was important to our customer base so they could gain a better understanding of how Terrasym would perform in their field. It also gave NewLeaf a unique advantage in the saturated ag biologicals market: Unlike most companies, we were able to build trust with growers.
“If we want biologicals to be successful in modern agriculture, we need companies that prioritize data transparency and understanding mode of action, while setting reasonable expectations with growers,” said Sean Blomgren, owner of Blomgren Seed located in Boone, IA . “Data transparency and understanding mode of action really helps someone like me because it prevents me from making unreasonable yield claims to sell your product. “
The 2020 growing season gave us results that show us Terrasym is and will continue to be a game changer in ag biologicals:
- 80% of the time farmers experienced a win when using Terrasym 450 for Corn, achieved a 9.9 bushel advantage and a 567% ROI on these fields.
- 75% of the time farmers experienced a win when using Terrasym 401 for Soybeans, achieving a 3.1 bushel advantage and a 460% ROI on these fields.
As we prepare for the 2021 growing season, we continue to collaborate with growers and third-party contract research organizations to listen to their feedback and use it to spearhead the growth and expansion of Terrasym.
We view our growers as co-developers of this technology with us. Working with IN10T allowed us to connect with a progressive group of farmers who are interested in biologicals, appreciate previews of new technologies entering the marketplace, and are willing to provide feedback to companies.
In fact, the feedback directly from these farmers has been invaluable. Being a small, agile company has allowed us to implement improvements year-over-year. For example, in 2020 we’ve updated packaging for easier handling, added a pine-scent to our formulation to improve aromatics – our current customers can attest to the importance of this! – and even enhanced production techniques which makes our wet-able powder mix into suspension with ease!
We’re also continuing to push the boundaries of the Terrasym platform as a whole. We’re currently testing new biostimulant pipeline products within cannabis, rice, tomato and leafy greens, a bio control product concept for the mitigation of corn rootworm, and see amazing promise for their development and commercialization, as well.
The demand for ag biologicals is growing, proving that growers are looking for sustainable solutions to treat crops. Through this surge in demand and willingness for grower to be co-developers of new technologies, NewLeaf continues to pave the path forward with transparent, data-driven solutions.
About the Author
Dr. Allison Jack, Ph.D.
During grad school, I caught start up fever while collaborating with an early stage green ag-tech start up and investigating the microbial ecology behind their product’s ability to suppress pre-emergence damping off. Riding the wave as the plant microbiome field has expanded over the past decade as a student, post doc and then as an industry scientist has been quite an adventure. Now at NewLeaf, I provide technical support to the Commercial Team and interface with our customers, partners and collaborators. As a weekend warrior, I volunteer as the branch ambassador for Hike it Baby St. Louis and lead family hikes in the region’s parks and nature reserves with my daughter and husband. We love the region’s active native plant community and are expanding our native pollinator garden one plant and seed swap at a time.