Tracking Biostimulants: Retailer Survey Data from Stratus Ag Research Highlights and Analysis
The results were eye-opening for a number of reasons, including which biostimulant segments were performing best, with the exclamation point being that it was the first non-anecdotal glimpse at how nitrogen fixation biostimulants were performing according to farmers’ expectations and perceptions— the overwhelming consensus was that when it came to nitrogen-fixing, there was a lot left to be desired.
The following month, results from NDSU seemingly illustrated potential performance challenges with trial data.
While there is nuance to interpreting the results, it illustrates we still have a way to go regarding effective biostimulant utilization within North America.
Even with some challenges, biostimulants have enormous potential. One way to bring that potential to life is through engaging the retail channel and ensuring the farmers trusted advisor has confidence in the products.
This week Stratus Ag Research released their Tracking Biostimulants Retailer Survey which shared incredible insight into the perception from what retailers see within the biostimulant realm in both the USA and Canada.
For the farmer-based survey I highlighted just the American results, this time I will emphasize the American results again, but work in some Canadian data points where it makes sense.
The overall attitude in biostimulants is what I would summarize as lukewarm:
In 2022, 57% of North American retailers sold at least one biostimulant product:
40% of those retails sold a nitrogen-fixing biostimulant making it the most popularly sold biostimulant through the retail channel. It was also the most commonly used product type by farmers, as shown in the farmer survey.
A notable variation could be seen between Canada and the USA— 81% of Canadian retailers sold at least one biostimulant, whereas just 45% of US-based retailers sold at least one biostimulant.
Consistent with the farmer results, southern USA retailers were less likely to sell a biostimulant:
Interestingly, co-operatives were more likely to sell biostimulants than independents or nationals:
This is a miss on the independent’s part, and an internal opportunity on the national’s part.
The reason being, if we look at Nutrien, Helena and Simplot as the three largest nationals according to the CropLife 100— each of them have their own proprietary line of biostimulant products which means these products should be even more top of mind for them:
Not to mention the opportunity in integrating them across their other proprietary products, like Proven or Dyna-Gro Seed for Nutrien or into the Innvictis Seed or crop protection brands from Simplot, especially given these entities’ opportunity in growing their seed market share, as noted from their seed share of revenue numbers from CropLife and the potential ability to differentiate seed with targeted biostimulant treatments.
Note: Without specifics, one or all of those entities could be doing a really good job on biologicals, and the other national entities out there are doing a poor job, so it’s difficult to say for sure, but the opportunity still remains.
The national retailers were the most open to selling biostimulants in the future:
Not surprisingly, agronomists and younger individuals were more likely to sell a biostimulant and more open to it moving forward.
One takeaway from this as it pertains to the agronomist insight is that technical competence and confidence to engage in deeper agronomic conversations are key for selling biostimulants.
Biostimulants do not allow for the same “seeing to believe” effect as herbicides or insecticides, for example, so they require a stronger grasp of the technical realities of plant physiology, soil science and systems agronomy.
Biostimulants require solution selling (see systems segment of my recent Synthetics, Biologicals, Systems Agronomy and Weak Link Problems). Not singular product selling. A farmer knows they have weeds, but many farmers are not aware of the significant yield reduction abiotic stresses can have on their crops as a basic example:
Agronomists tend to be better equipped to discuss this in a way that resonates with a farmer.
The USA product breakout came out as the following:
We can really see Corteva leveraging their distribution and relationship with retailers to drive the usage of their Utrisha N product.
According to the farmer survey, Utrisha N was the 3rd most used nitrogen-fixing biostimulant used in 2022, but it is the most recommended by retailers.
One takeaway here is the influence that direct to farmer sales surrounding N fixation is having, such as Pivot Bio.
There are four ways to interpret this information:
Retailers do not have confidence in the performance of these products
Retailers are not incentivized to cannibalize their bulk nitrogen sales
Retails are missing the opportunity to engage in biostimulatory N product discussions with their customers
Direct-to-farmer N fixation companies are equipping their staff highly effectively.
It is probably some combination of them all. The reinforcement here is that companies like Corteva have an opportunity to improve their communication around biostimulants and instill confidence in the retailers with their products so that retailers drive more conversations with their farm customers. More on this later.
Corteva is essentially brand new to selling biostimulants in the past few years, yet they are the number one company that is being sold by retailers in the USA:
Contrast this with Canada for the equivalent Canadian data:
Azotic is distributed through Syngenta in Canada and Syngenta hasn’t sold any biostimulant (in Canada) prior to their agreement with Azotic.
There are a few takeaways here:
Access to distribution is king for biostimulants
Broad portfolios to leverage and already established relationships allow streamlined access to the market
The major crop protection and seed companies bring legitimacy to the biostimulant segment
Given the perceived performance issues of N fixing biostimulant products currently, there is a risk of that perception bleeding into the rest of these companies portfolio. Given this, it will act as a further incentive for input manufacturers to do their diligence on the products and bring them to market in an increasingly thoughtful way and do so swiftly.
As with the results from the farmer survey, the nitrogen fixation biostimulant segment was one of the poorest performing according to perception with organic acids being the best performing:
With the performance perception varying by specific product when it comes to nitrogen-fixing biostimulants:
For more context on the different types of biostimulants, here is a more encompassing biological breakdown with biostimulants making up every category to a large degree, besides “macrobials”:
One of the things that stands out to me regarding these biostimulant products is that the products that have some of the best-perceived performance are formulated with micronutrients as well, not stand-alone biostimulants:
This could also be for a couple of reasons:
Micronutrient, or even macronutrients in the products, could be augmentative to the biostimulant, driving higher likelihood of response
Some micronutrients are known to come with a increased “greening effect”. As much as we know farmers do not get paid for how green their crop looks, these visual differences can be highly influential on an individuals perception of product performance.
My personal view is that formulation with nutrition is preferred because there is an ability to feed the plant directly and ensure adequate levels of influential nutrients can be added at strategic times along with the biostimulant. There are formulation challenges and incremental costings to this, but my general experience from my agronomist days were more consistent performance when integrating nutrition + biostimulatory ingredients.
For example, one thing I will be curious to see in the future is how N fixing product companies will integrate nutrients strategically into their products. For example, molybdenum has been shown to play an important role in nitrogen metabolism and protein synthesis in plants. During symbiotic N fixation, molybdenum acts as a cofactor for nitrogenase enzymes to convert unusable forms of N into plant-available forms. Similar effects have been shown with calcium as well.