science

Microbial Weapons for Agricultural Production

During the early 20th century, soil microbiology and ecology studies led to the identification of many microorganisms that act as antagonists or hyperparasites of pathogens and insect pests. This was the origin of a popular research topic, biological control, the use of an organism or organisms to reduce disease (caused by plant pathogens) or damage (caused by insect pests). This often resulted in the release of several predators, parasitoids, and pathogens of insects and plants until the mid 1900’s. Many showed promise in field-scale inoculations, but few were developed commercially because of the rapid adoption of less expensive and more consistently performing chemical pesticides.

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In Microbes Part I, we opened our discussion on how beneficial microorganisms have been influencing agriculture for centuries. The biology behind early examples such as the fertile floating gardens used by early Aztecs in Mexico was unknown. It wasn’t until the 1980’s when soil microbiological research identified specific microorganisms that influenced plant growth. Particular attention focused on the rhizosphere, the region of soil where plant roots growth, respiration, and nutrient exchange influences the microbiology of the soil.

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At the 42nd Annual CAPCA Conference & Agri-Expo (October 16-18, 2016) I was very excited to see newly registered microbial products for use on agricultural crops. Some of the products displayed at the CAPCA Conference were Bio-Tam2.0, Botector, Grandevo, Regalia, MagesteneTM, Taegro2, and Venerate. While these products are fairly new on the market, microorganisms have long played important roles in agriculture. One of the earliest examples can still be found today in the anchored fertile beds in shallow lake beds in the Valley of Mexico. Called Chinampas, they are staked rectangular beds filled with sediment, decaying vegetation, mud, and usually anchored by cypress trees. These beds were organically and biologically rich, and contained beneficial microorganisms such as Fusarium and Trichoderma fungi, and Pseudomonas bacteria. These microbes provided disease protection, plant growth promotion, and nutrient mineralization. Agriculture unknowingly relied on soil microbes (bacteria and fungi) to decompose organic matter, recycle old plant material, and fix nitrogen.