Growers are quickly adopting this biological product to withstand weather stress

This summer's dry weather across much of the Midwest reveals how a natural fungal endophyte helps crops hang onto yield under stress. Dramatic yield differences between treated vs. untreated crops has encouraged growers worldwide to expand applications from 220,000 acres in 2017 to more than 2 million acres this season.

August 5, 2020 — It's a friendly fungus, Trichoderma harzianum, developed by Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies based in Seattle, Washington. You can apply it as a seed treatment, in-furrow or foliar. Some growers spray it on bare soil, tank-mixed with fertilizer. The organism is unique because it grows inside the crop. It multiplies rapidly and works symbiotically with your crop, enabling plants to better endure heat, drought, or even cold weather. 

The company's research and development name for the product, as presented on their website, is BioEnsure. The company licenses it to distributors for resale under each distributor's private trademark. For example, Bob Streit and Marv Mortensen of Central Iowa Agronomics retail this product under the label Protect.

BioEnsure's developers, Rusty Rodriguiz and Regina Redman, discovered through their studies in high stress habitats, like geothermal soils of Yellowstone National Park, that plants growing year-round in hot soils (temperatures vary from 68 F. to 149 F.) were able to survive due to a symbiotic association between a plant and a fungus. When they looked at other plant systems in other habitats which imposed high salt, drought or cold stress, they again found that plants required specific fungal partners to thrive.

Rusty and Regina isolated various organisms from these enduring plants, reasoning that there must be a symbiotic relationship between internal microbes and the plants in the hostile geothermal basins. Rusty and Regina reasoned: Could these helpful microbes also confer stress resistance on commercial crops like corn, beans, grasses and others?

Soon after, Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (AST) was founded. CEO Rusty Rodriguez, during the last five years, focused countless tests in labs and fields conducted with beneficial fungi and bacteria. In 2017, AST released a natural microbial line commercially. The bacterial product is called by the R&D name BioTango. It's a mixture of beneficial Bacillus species that work in synergy with BioEnsure.

This season, Midwest and Plains growers are seeing these beneficial bacteria and fungi show profitable yield benefits under dry-weather stress. On top of that, AST has found that crops grown with the firm's symbiotic science show improved soil nutrient use and higher food and feed quality. 

We reported on some field results earlier, and asked the company's chief research scientist, Regina Redman, to help us find a grower with extended experience with this technology.

She pointed us to Rodney Rusza, farmer and cowman in Walworth County, South Dakota. Summertime in this north central part of the state, says Rodney in an interview, means "we're always just a week away from drought."

Rodney tells us he searched scientific reports and the internet for technology to help his corn, soybeans, pasture and other crops endure hot, dry stretches in June through August. Three years ago, he found BioEnsure. He began cooperating in field tests with lead researcher Regina Redman. Today he described to us some of his results, and sent a few photos. Here are some results relayed by Rodney:

Soybeans: During an especially dry summer in 2018, "my soybeans were trying to add pods and fill existing pods, but they were going backward. Aborting blossoms. I sprayed them with BioEnsure and its companion product, BioTango, a bacterial organism which also confers stress resistance to crops. The beans stabilized, filled pods and made 37 bu. per acre. Neighbors' soybeans hardly reached 10 inches and just a few bushels per acre."

In 2019, he applied these products again, and saw that "my treated soybeans were a foot taller" and yielded better than untreated fields. This season — 2020 — he had good-looking crops coming on, but a massive hailstorm while corn ears were filling stripped both corn and beans down to stubble. He's planning to spray BioEnsure / BioTango on some beans, just to see how well they might recover.

Rodney's corn treated with
BioEnsure and BioTango
Neighboring untreated corn
at the same point in the season

Corn: Rodney sent us a photo of a BioEnsure / BioTango treated cornfield in late summer of a previous season. It was still dark green and filling ears. Neighboring untreated fields were shorter, not as green, and firing at the base.

Native grass pasture: This was one of Rodney's first tests with BioEnsure, sprayed in 2018 and again in 2019. He maintains 80-acre paddocks, rotating cattle about once a month. 

"Pasture sprayed with the combination of BioEnsure and BioTango was thick green and about 40 inches tall when we turned in the herd," Rodney told us. The photos with a surveyor's rod reveal the height. "Untreated pasture on the same kind of ground was lighter, not as green and grew to only 20 inches." 

Rodney added that his cows appeared to find the treated pasture more palatable and filling. The nearby photo shows a grazed paddock with plenty of grass left after the herd was moved following a month's grazing. 

He baled some treated and untreated pasture, recalling. "I got a lot more bales per acre from the treated field." Researchers from Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies tallied several replicated fields. Rodney got up to a 248% increase in forage yield. Complete results are shown in a chart at the bottom of this article.

Here's an important management point which probably helps Rodney's crops respond when treated with BioEnsure and BioTango: He has been a cover-crop enthusiast for 13 seasons. His cover crops are widely diverse including grasses, legumes and tillage radish. 

He tells us, "Before I started cover cropping, most of my soils tested about 1% organic matter and looked like light-colored sand. Now they average close to 5% organic matter — and they're dark black." 

That effort was part of a long-term objective to "drought-proof" his farm and ranching operation. He says, "We farmers killed off much of our soil biological life with chemicals and fertilizer. Now we need to restore healthy soils. Diverse soil biology is the foundation for that."

Rodney added a technical point: His farm's water supply is from a rural water district, so water is chlorinated. He has noted that biological products with living organisms — fungal or bacterial — don't perform as well carried by water with chlorine, a wide-spectrum microbicide. Rodney partially neutralizes the effect of chlorine by adding a product called Water-Rite from Hefty Seeds.

Our recommendation at Renewable Farming is that if chlorinated water is your only source, allow it to sit at least overnight in an open tank to gas off before mixing in live biologicals. 

Our company, Renewable Farming recommends on-farm, non-chlorinated water for all spray mixes, whether or not they contain live microbes.

To see a detailed PowerPoint presentation by Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies, download the PDF file at this link.

Treated native pasture is hip-high and bright green
Untreated pasture is not as green and half as tall
Late summer pasture which was treated early
with BioEnsure / BioTango, then grazed for a month.

 

Native grass hay yields and relative feed value with, and without,
treatment with BioEnsure and BioTango on the Rodney Rusza farm