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Next-Gen Seed and Plant Biologicals Already Growing

Next-Gen Seed and Plant Biologicals Already Growing
A growth wave of biological treatments for plants and seeds is just getting underway, promising to improve yields and boost farm productivity.

You'll hear much more about biological and microbial products in coming years. But whoa! Just what are they?

Novozymes officials explain them this way: Agricultural biologicals can complement or replace traditional fertilizers and chemicals. They promise to help lower ag's environmental impact. They're naturally-occurring microbials (fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms), plant extracts, beneficial insects and other organic materials.

NON-GMO OR NO? You won't know seed treated with biologicals or microbials by appearance. But biotech companies are increasing developing products for organic, genetically-engineered and non-GE market.

Early this year, Novozymes and Monsanto sealed the deal on a strategic BioAg Alliance to jointly expand research, development and commercialization of sustainable microbial products. On another front, Bayer CropScience announced an $18 million investment in a new German facility to help meet growing global demand for biological crop protection solutions. "Using biologicals is another future-oriented way of sustainably increasing ag productivity," noted Bayer Management Board member Bernd Naaf.

And in Washington, D.C., Monsanto Chief Technology Officer and 2013 World Food Prize Laureate Robb Fraley recently emphasized the need for continued innovation to feed a population expected to grow by more than 2 billion people by 2050. He predicted future ag tech advances would come from five technology platforms: breeding, biotechnology, crop protection, biological and data science.

"These platforms will progress and combine to enable farmers to operate more efficiently and more sustainably. They may require smaller and fewer applications than current agricultural products," he noted. "That's better for farmers, more sustainable and consistent with our vision."

ROBB FRALEY: "By working with a plant's own naturally-occurring processes, we have potential to create products that are very precise and specific in how they work."

But are they GMOs?
With the number of biological seed and plant treatments growing by the day, would some of them fall into the category of genetically modified organisms? That's what Farm Progress queried the American Seed Trade Association about.

"As far as we know,' responded, Janice Walters, ASTA's director of communications, "there are no commercially available seed treatments that are considered, or regulated as, genetically modified organisms."

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