An ever-growing human population and increasing climatic instability will demand changes to how we grow food. But opinions on what these changes should be are hotly debated. They often veer in one of two directions. One direction sees “back to nature” deindustrialized growing systems as necessary for reversing soil degradation and environmental destruction. The other sees continued technological innovation as the only way to adapt to a rapidly changing planet.
Rather than an either/or proposition, Impello sees the future of agriculture demanding a both/and approach to nature and technology. By focusing on microbes, one of the most ancient life forms on Earth, we are, in effect, going back to nature to develop sustainable agricultural technologies. In our microbial inoculants and other biological solutions, nature and technology are synonymous.
To demonstrate exactly what makes microbial inoculants special, and why we think they are a critical sustainable agricultural solution, we wanted to give you a closer look at the unique science and research behind every Impello product.
Why Our Focus is Microbial Inoculants and Biological Solutions
Many significant advancements in agricultural science were borne out of a particular scientific and societal mindset in which nature was something to be subdued, conquered, solved. This approach gave us synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, and sophisticated farm equipment: innovations that delivered tremendous benefits, along with even greater consequences.
Put simply, scientific and technological advancements in the 20th century focused single-mindedly on productivity—or yields—with little regard for the long-term sustainability of those yields. The result? Crumbling soil health, global biodiversity collapse, impending drought, and more.
However, we cannot simply turn back the clock. With a growing population and the increasing pressure of climate change, we need to move forward. We need to be able to improve yields while reversing the consequences wrought by an agricultural mindset that aimed to maximize productivity at all costs.
For Michael DiLegge, Impello’s Director of Microbiology, focusing on microbial inoculants and other biostimulants is the best way to bridge the divide between ecological health and technological innovation. “At Impello, we’re seeking to ‘re-modernize’ agriculture via going back to the roots,” he says. “We do this by searching through the soil to identify beneficial microbes as well as naturally occurring biochemicals to increase crop health properties.”
Cutting-edge science and innovation are at the core of Impello but formulated within the context of complex, whole systems. New products and technologies must be in service of that entire system, not one small part. That is what we strive to do. By (literally) going back to the roots, microbial inoculants can help us progress forward to a sustainable future.
Creating and Testing New Impello Inputs
Ensuring that biological products like microbial inoculants are sustainable, commercially viable, and scientifically proven is a long and challenging process. At Impello, this begins with our research and development lab and an expert team of molecular biologists, microbiologists, biochemists, and soil scientists.
Creating new microbial products involves many steps. We work with plant growth-promoting microorganisms backed by previous research. We are also always seeking to understand and identify beneficial microbes, along with the reactions between different microbes. This type of “bioprospecting” includes DNA sequencing to identify beneficial microbes and next-generation culturomic - techniques (microbial cultivation) to successfully get these microbes out of the soil and effectively reproduce them for commercial use.
Several rounds of lab trials follow, where we study microbial effects on yields, pathogen resistance, as well as microbe-to-microbe interactions. Finally, we submit our products for third-party testing and OMRI certification: this assures the efficacy of every Impello product is validated and that they are permitted for use in certified organic operations.
What Makes Impello’s Microbial Inoculants Different
At Impello, we ensure that our microbial inoculants are leaders in effectiveness and performance in a few important ways. Many inoculants feature a single bacteria and are designed with a single focused outcome in mind, like phosphorus solubilization. These focused inoculants have their place, but they continue the same productivist “inputs in, yields out” tunnel vision approach that has compromised the sustainability of our soil and food systems in the name of short-term gains.
Impello inoculants like ContinuµM are designed to address yield improvements more holistically and sustainably. “Rather than a single bacterial species, our inoculants employ a consortium of plant growth-promoting beneficial bacteria,” DiLegge says. “Because of this, they produce several plant-benefiting functions such as nutrient acquisition, phosphorus solubilization, auxin production, and a good degree of antimicrobial activity to protect hosts from pathogens.”
The consortium of bacteria in ContinuµM, Impello's newest microbial inoculant, are also co-cultured rather than individual species grown together and then mixed into a final product, they are grown together to increase metabolic activity and maximize their symbiotic, synergizing effects on plant health, soil fertility, and yields.
Where Microbes Will Take Us Next
The most exciting aspect of microbial applications in agriculture is the fact that we are just getting started. The rate of new discoveries and advancements in the fields is incredible, and we are excited to be leading the charge.
Again, DiLegge emphasizes the diverse, interconnected benefits biotechnologies such as microbial inoculants offer. “We are inspired to provide growers with the tools that help them factor in both plant yields and soil health during cultivation, and rely on the plant’s natural associations with its microbes under varying environmental factors,” he says.
Impello inoculants already provide growers with an effective tool to improve plant yields and soil health. For future products, the Impello R&D team is working to identify and utilize stress-adapted microbes in plant microbiomes. These microbes will be essential if our agricultural yields are to keep pace amidst the drought, flooding, extreme heat, and pathogenic stresses that climate change is already putting on crops around the world. Leveraging their stress adaptations can improve water use efficiency, soil water retention, and plant heat resistance—helping us adapt to more hostile and unpredictable growing conditions.
Beyond sustainable yield improvements, we’re also eager to see how we can use microbes to make plants healthier for humans by increasing phytochemical content. Many phytochemicals and alkaloids that are essential to human health are plant defense compounds. Microbes can be used to activate plant defense reactions without the need for administering an actual threat to the plant, allowing us to "nutrient-pack" crops intended for human consumption. There are other methods of biofortification, like selective breeding and genetic engineering, but they are expensive, time-consuming, and, in the case of genetic engineering, often controversial. Biofortifying microbes and biochemicals are more accessible and can be used broadly across many agricultural and horticultural crops.
Learn More About the Science and Application of Microbial Inoculants
The science behind Impello’s products takes its cues from the innovators billions of years in the making, right beneath our feet—microbes. The challenges we are trying to solve are daunting, but we find constant inspiration in the solutions and innovations being put forward by our fellow researchers, scientists, and growers. We’re endlessly passionate about developing microbial inoculants that make agriculture better for people and for the planet.
From hobby growers to commercial operators, microbial inoculants and other biostimulants can help you sustain yields, improve soil health, and minimize your environmental impact. Our Education Center features more resources to help you incorporate them effectively into your growing system.
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