Leveraging Biology for Better Crop Performance

 Back in 1920, farmers discovered the time-saving benefits of a new piece of equipment called a tractor. In the 30s and 40s, new chemical technology called pesticides improved production. In the 60s, irrigation evolved so growers could increase crop yields. Fast-forward another 30 years, and new seeds that were resistant to insects and weeds were the latest development in growing.

What is a Microbial Inoculant?

Technology has always played a major role in agriculture over the years, although what’s good for economics isn’t always good for the environment. Often, those who are interested in growing plants either in commercial enterprises or in backyard beds have been forced to choose between improved plant yield  and what’s best for the Earth. 

The modern grower — and consumer — demand something better.

Thankfully, today’s latest science is as beneficial for production as it is for the soil itself. In recent years, researchers have focused on the shift away from genetic engineering and chemicals and toward a natural tool for growing food, cannabis, and other popular crops. 

The newest technology is known as microbial inoculants, which usually come in liquid form as supplements used to improve the soils of farms and gardens of all sizes. While these natural products have been proven effective without negatively impacting the environment, they’re still relatively unknown to many growers. 

Still, others have already discovered the benefits of integrating microbial inoculants, which are also sometimes known as bioinoculants. As a new best practice, this new technology is quickly revolutionizing the way many people grow crops for commercial and personal use.

History of Improving Soil Quality 

The use of microbial inoculants began as a natural evolution from centuries of experimentation by growers who know that plants are only as good as the soil in which they grow. It doesn’t matter how genetically modified a seed is — if the soil lacks what roots need to survive, it’s not going to produce much. 

Anthropologists learned that our earliest farming ancestors added wood ash and minerals to their land to improve soil quality and increase their yields. By the 18th century, along with the new practice of crop rotation, growers started adding guano to the soils for increased nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium.

With industrialization came chemical fertilizers like nitric acid and ammonium phosphates, and many people have never moved away from these unnatural methods. But it didn’t take long for conservationists to sound an alarm on behalf of the environment. Both groundwater and air pollution had become an obvious byproduct of such practices, not to mention long-term degradation of the soil itself.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, agriculture researchers began to look for ways to create more sustainable practices that improved the health of the environment instead of destroying it. Their focus soon targeted the power of microbes, including bacteria, that enhanced the section of soils where roots grow.   

What Is a Microbial Inoculant?

Microbial inoculants also called bioinoculants or soil inoculants are agricultural amendments that use beneficial microbes to promote plant growth, health, and crop yields. The technology behind microbial inoculants is based in nature, but the concept still remains foreign to many growers. That’s because people often mistakenly presume that microbes like bacteria are always bad for plants and themselves. 

Spoiler alert: Some bacteria are not only good but necessary for healthy plant development.

It’s worth comparing to the bacteria that live within the guts and on the skin of humans. Just like at one time we were encouraged to use antibacterial soap, we now know that there are good bacteria. That’s why the use of probiotics and prebiotics has grown in such popularity in recent years. Bacteria, researchers now agree, are important building blocks for our health. It’s the same with microbial inoculants and the soil. 

What Does Inoculant Do?

By adding good bacteria into the root zone, growers are able to support plants during all stages of growth by using microbial inoculants. 

How can you know which bacteria are good and which are bad? 

Tribus Original, a proprietary product created by Impello, is a mixture of three species of bacteria:

  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Bacillus amyloliquefaciens
  • Bacillus pumilus

Together, these microorganisms grow around the root structure of plants to produce extracellular enzymes and biochemicals that enhance nutrient availability, stem and root growth, and increase the overall growth rate of the plant itself. 

Microbial inoculants like Tribus Original improve soil fertility by improving the levels of atmospheric nitrogen and assisting the phosphates in the soil to be more easily used by root structures. 

How to Inoculate Soil with Bacteria? 

It’s not necessary to wait until there is a clear issue within your soil — as evidenced with yellowing leaves, premature bloom drop, or stunted growth — to incorporate a microbial inoculant into your growing routine. 

However, these soil additives are especially important if a farm or garden is located where the soil quality is diminished, there is insufficient water, overuse of pesticides or other chemicals, pollution, or excessive tilling.

How to Use Microbial Inoculants?

Sold as a liquid in sizes ranging from 100-milliliter bottles to 5-gallon jugs, Tribus Original microbial inoculant is designed to be used throughout the growth cycle. Before applying, shake the container well as the Bacillus spores settle naturally. 

Highly concentrated, it is diluted in water (100 milliliters treats 200 gallons of water) for application using any dispersant irrigation technique. Do not pre-mix the solution; instead, use all bacteria-rich watering solutions within 24 hours. The liquid microbial inoculant is proven to be stable for at least 18 months when stored in a closed container in a cool, dry location.

For best results, you can use the product once a week or even with every watering while the plant is in the active growth phase. The Tribus Original formula is designed to be used before seed planting all the way to harvest. By applying a microbial inoculant early in a plant’s life cycle, growers will encourage the bacteria colonies to grow along with the growing roots.

Although microbial inoculants were originally designed to enhance soil quality, they are also beneficial in hydroponic and soilless growing environments. Roots always thrive in rich microbial atmospheres. 

Microbial Inoculants in Agriculture - Leveraging Technology for Better Results

An important tool for commercial farmers and backyard gardening hobbyists, microbial inoculants in agriculture have been proven effective. Third-party testing of Tribus Original, a top selling microbial inoculant product, has shown a 15% increase in dry weight yields, 14% increase in growth rate, and 16% increase in stem diameter through consistent use.

Of course, it’s possible to leverage this technology in association with other environmentally friendly agricultural best practices. Microbial inoculants can be used with or without other methods, including:

  • Crop rotation
  • Reduced tillage
  • Compost including decomposed kitchen scraps or animal manure
  • Soil amendments, such as amino acids and polypeptides found in Impello’s Lumina

The idea behind integrating different additives into the soil is that various organic materials have their own unique microflora, which together creates healthy biodiversity in the growing environment. Soils become more fertile and productive for years to come.

It’s the complete opposite of previous agricultural technology, in which overuse of chemicals like pesticides dramatically decreased the microbial biota located in the top layers of the Earth where plant roots searched for nutrients and water. Microbial inoculants, then, are what modern growers use to improve and support their farmland and garden beds.

This advance in technology is better for the local environment, produces better yields, and facilitates stronger, more resilient plants — but microbial inoculants have another benefit: They’re safer. 

Biosafety, a term referring to the precautions communities must take to avoid the loss of biological integrity, is becoming increasingly important for those in the agricultural industry on all levels. Growers are responsible for protecting those around them from disease, pests, and pathogens.

When growing plants for consumption, modern farmers and gardeners must be long-term thinkers and stewards of the environment. Instead of using outdated methods and technology that harm soils, it’s now possible to introduce naturally occurring bacteria into all growing zones throughout the nation.

Current Production Trends in Agriculture - 

Researchers are continuing to learn and publish their results on the benefits of microbial inoculants, particularly in understanding how to maintain and enhance the diversity of microscopic life within the rhizosphere of geographically different soils. Science is also focused on better understanding biofertilizers and the best application processes.

Instead of developing new mixtures of chemicals or even equipment for disrupting the levels of Earth within a growing environment, more modern agricultural research is needed on what’s known as plant growth-promoting microorganisms, or PGPMs. Because the microbial communities living within the superficial layers of soil are so complex and dynamic, there’s still a lot to learn.

What is known, however, is that farmers and gardeners now have the ability to strengthen and support their plants with microbial inoculants. While some concern remains regarding competition among bacteria in certain fields, you simply cannot argue with results.

Impello receives testimonials from growers throughout the nation raving about the plant growth, health, and yield results they’ve seen from applications of Tribus Original. 

Hunter Konchan, the director of farm operations with the CBD hemp company Functional Remedies in Colorado, said he’s tried many microbial inoculants, but it was sometimes difficult to tell if they were working.

“Tribus changed all that,” he wrote. “I observed plant growth like never before. I’ll never grow without it.”

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