Finding the best ways to deliver biological benefits to crops

Farmers and growers are set to benefit from new work by AgResearch scientists on evaluating formulations for delivering beneficial microbes to agricultural and horticultural crops.

Beneficial microbes are now commonly used by growers to improve plant growth and survival, or to control diseases and pests. They provide a natural, biological alternative to fertilisers and pesticides. As living organisms, microbes need to be delivered to plants in special formulations that preserve their viability and performance.

For this study, an AgResearch team was supported by the Next-Generation Biopesticides (NGB) research programme, a partnership with Plant & Food Research, the Bio-Protection Research Centre (Lincoln University) and industry stakeholders Grasslanz, Zespri and the Foundation for Arable Research. The NGB programme aims to develop prototype biopesticides – pesticides based on microorganisms or their bioactives – that are targeted and safe for both the environment and human use

AgResearch Senior Scientist Mike Wilson from the Farm Systems and Environment Group at Ruakura led the work comparing five formulations for delivering a particular beneficial microbe as a seed coating. The team showed for the first time that there is no one optimum formulation, but depending upon the storage temperature and humidity, some seed coatings were better than others at protecting microbe function.

“Most formulation studies are done by industry and data are not published in journals – results are kept confidential. Because we have already patented our best formulations, we are comfortable about having our data published,” Dr Wilson says.

These results, published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, are likely to be useful to formulation scientists, especially those in developing nations, who are designing seed coatings for use in hot, humid conditions with little access to refrigeration.

The NGB team are working on developing a range of biopesticide products for use in New Zealand farming conditions.