Agriculture Biostimulants Moving Mainstream

Biostimulants are finally shaking off the “snake oil” label and gaining acceptance with many North American growers. Still, product performance is not always easy to quantify, leaving many customers uncertain about future use.

Stratus surveyed 2,263 North American growers in 2022, as the first year in tracking product use, satisfaction, and commitment to reuse. The study focused on farms in areas with large-acre crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat, and canola.

In both the USA and Canada, 23% of growers reported using a biostimulant product in 2022. Use was most common on the Plains – the Central and Northern Plains of the U.S. and in Western Canada. Large farms are more likely to use biostimulants but that may be as much about geography because farms on the Plains tend to have more acres. It is not surprising that biostimulants are most popular among younger growers and among those planning to expand their operations over the next five years.

There are dozens of different products available, but only a few have real momentum. ProveN 40, Quick Roots, Black Label Zinc, and Envita are the only brands used by more than 3% of U.S. growers. In Canada, only JumpStart, Envita, and Utrisha N surpassed 3% penetration.

About half of all users are satisfied with the biostimulant they used in 2022, and 11 to 12% are dissatisfied, leaving many uncertain or saying they don’t know.

The N-Fixing category has the lowest satisfaction level, with almost 20% of users disappointed. This could be because many trying N-fixing brands are new to biostimulants and still learning how to get the best results. It could also be because of the high expectations for products specifically related to nitrogen, which growers associate very directly with higher yields.

Across all categories, over 30% are committed to ongoing use of the brand they applied in 2022. A similar portion of users are NOT committed to reuse, which is higher than what is typically seen with crop protection products among these same farmers.

These satisfaction and commitment levels highlight the main challenge for biologicals in agriculture - The gap between performance and expectations. The sector's future depends on narrowing that gap: Companies need to improve performance consistency, and farmers may need to adjust their expectations, until the value equation balances.

General attitudes about biostimulants are also mixed. For example, in the U.S. 39% have a positive attitude, 30% are neutral and 31% are negative. Within that 31%, only 5% are very negative, saying they will never use biostimulants.

While 23% used a biostimulant in 2022, a total of 39% have a positive attitude. The difference of 15% is growers with a positive attitude who are not yet users but represent a ready pool of prospects for the next wave of growth. Perhaps that growth will appear in the 2023 Stratus results.

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