Frequently Asked Questions
A Brief Overview of Soil Biology.
Microbial soil inoculants are products that contain beneficial soil microorganisms. The beneficial microorganisms include a combination of specific bacteria, select fungi and/or mycorrhizae. Introducing these microbes into the root zone, i.e. inoculating, helps creates an ideal environment for optimizing plant growth.
Simply put - beneficial soil microorganisms are directly or indirectly involved in every transformation, conversion, or processing of nutrients, storing of nutrients (reduced leaching) and provide a protective barrier around roots ensuring a healthy environment for growth. (See also: Rhizosphere FAQ, Rhizosphere Article, What Makes a Good Soil Inoculant, and FAQs)
Their ability to recycle nutrients, to breakdown complex structures into plant (and invertebrate) available form, to improve soil structure and to ultimately become a food source themselves, forms the basis of their synergistic relationship with both the flora and soil fauna. (Note: Some nutrients, like available nitrogen, can not be stored or "locked" in soil. Available nitrogen must be immediately used by plants, "stored" in microorganisms, or it leaches – wasted money for the user and environmental impacts for everyone)
Plant roots release exudates forming a rich rhizosphere environment which is very attractive to microbes – attractive to both the good (beneficial) and the bad (opportunistic & pathogenic) organisms. In soils stressed by
- environmental factors, too much or too little water;
- long term use of conventional salt based fertilizers (osmotic shock kills microbes by dehydration);
- frequent turning of soils through tilling and plowing (releasing sequestered carbon, loss of organic matter &
- topsoil through erosion);
- the effects of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides;
beneficial microbes are quickly displaced by non-beneficial or "opportunistic" microbes who are better adapted to survive in this stressed environment. Analogous to a compromised immune system in humans which presents an "opportunity" for pathogens to cause infection leading to a spiral of complications.
The non-beneficial microorganisms populating the stressed rhizosphere foster an environment which not only harms the plant and degrades soil tilth but attracts additional non-beneficial flora and fauna – weeds and pests. Now we need additional chemicals to treat these symptoms, which in turn make the soil more inhospitable for the beneficial microbes, and … the cycle continues in the wrong direction.
In summary, positively influencing the rhizosphere is key in maximizing economic yield and reducing environmental collateral damage. If left alone, nature will eventually balance soil biology but it takes decades or more depending on the initial condition. Time that is not commercially available between crops, between grazing cycles, or between rounds of golf.
SoilNoc® product range is a valuable asset in your agronomy toolbox for conventional and organic growers. Both benefit from health, yield, and reduction of inputs. SoilNoc® is not meant to permanently change your indigenous biology. It is designed to give you an element of control ensuring your plants & profits have a very competitive edge – from the roots up!
Why should I inoculate my soil? Doesn't it contain biology already?
(See Rhizosphere as well) All but the most sterile of soils contain biology. Not all of this biology is beneficial for your plants - not all of the eneficial biology may be active when needed. In a perfect scenario a natural balance would exist and adding more bacteria or fungi would be a waste of money at best. Think virgin forests, jungles, prairies before they were cultivated. Many factors impact the soil ecology; soils disturbed by farming, erosion, quality and quantity of organic matter, top soil loss, loss of native plants, etc, all have bearing on the microbial activity and diversity. These organisms are always competing for habitat and nutrients. Our products tip the balance in the plants favor by placing known amounts of known organisms in the right place at the right time. In a well managed soil program the need for our products disappears over time. Similarly, in an aggressively managed program with demanding yields, our products are tools to mitigate the immediate indigenous microbial disassociation caused by chemical fertilization and to reduce the compaction layer created by the salts contained in irrigation water.
What makes a good soil inoculant?
Excellent question - one whose answer is typically a close guarded secret. Simply stated an effective soil inoculant will include carefully selected organisms with an even more carefully selected biostimulant package (their lunch pail, if you will). To be effective the organisms must colonize the roots (colonizing strains) and/or establish their place in the rhizosphere (free living strains) and do so quickly before they finish the food in their lunch pail. The strains must exhibit positive chemotaxis to root exudates. This means they will actively seek out and move toward the "signals' sent by roots. They must be able to do this for a wide variety of plants in an equally wide variety of environments. And, of course, be able to provide benefits to the plant either by increasing the bioavailability of nutrients and/or by creating an environment hostile to pathogens.
What are CFUs and should I care about them?
All professional microbial products will clearly state the guaranteed biology count. CFU stands for Colony Forming Units and is a measure of product concentration. Similarly "propagules/lb" is the commonly used term for Endomycorrhizae concentration. The higher the number the more biology you get for your money. CFU is usually expressed per unit of weight or volume. CFU/g, CFU/lb, CFU/mL are commonly used in microbiology to express the number of viable (read live) bacteria or fungi. Conversely, other methods including direct microscope count do not differentiate between live or dead cells. Also, be sure to compare like units. It is easy to over look CFU/lb versus CFU/g when looking at package labels – note CFU/g is roughly 454 times more concentrated than CFU/lb.
Are these genetically modified organisms?
Absolutely not. These are naturally occurring species.
Why are your concentrations higher?
Not all growing environments are the same. The multitude of variables, many not in our control, have a direct impact on the performance of soil inoculants and their colonization efficacy. We understand that application conditions are not always favorable and therefore we increase our concentration levels by not adding inert material. These higher concentrations ensure viability and means you get more active product.
Do I still need to fertilize if I use your product?
We are firm believers of testing – both soil and plant. With the price of nutrients plus the impact they can have on the environment, it is prudent to only add nutrients based on what your specific plants actually need – and optimally – at the time of need. A healthy, well inoculated rhizosphere (root zone) greatly facilitates a plants ability to take up nutrients and converts existing immobilized nutrients into a form that is readily available to the plant.
Our products naturally increase the efficacy of your nutrient inputs allowing for a reduction in your normal application rate. Intensive cropping, a golf green, row crops, or a permanent orchard will need more nutrients than say a well managed pasture of native plus some improved grass. In the latter case, with proper management it is quite feasible to balance a winter cover crop with warm season grazing and end up with little to no additional inputs. A good quality fish fertilizer seems to also work very well feeding plants and the biology.
Can I continue to use my conventional fertilizers?
Yes. In many cases you can probably get by with using less. We do caution that harsh chemicals, strong acids, and some select fungicides may reduce the numbers of viable cultures.
Can I use pesticides or herbicides with your product?
Yes. Although some fungicides may be incompatible with the fungi contained in our product. If in doubt check with your vendor. As your soil and plant's health improves they will be in a better position to tolerate or fend off potential diseases.
What is the best way to apply your product?
The best way is the approach that works well for your operation, equipment and conditions. Ultimately the goal is to get the product to the root zone. The wettable powder can pass through 50 mesh irrigation systems, drip lines, pivots, hand held sprayers, boom or boomless pasture sprayers, worked into the soil prior or during planting, mixed in with seeds before planting (this works especially well on humid days), banding, etc. Some folks spray the product on their cover crops just before shredding and disking in early spring. This gets your green manure or nitrogen fixed cover crop and your biology into the soil in one operation. In dry land farming it is best to try timing an application just prior to a rain event or apply on moist soil. The sooner they receive water the sooner they go to work. Water is also the primary means of transporting the biology to the root zone.
Other than good ol' common sense, do these products require any special handling precautions?
In these days of imposed disclaimers, it is refreshing to see those words: "common sense". Our products include naturally occurring ingredients. We strongly recommend keeping the product dry until you are ready to mix. This increases the shelf life and makes it easier to mix into a solution. Use the same safety guidelines as you would for dusty environments, avoid getting it in your eyes, open wounds, etc., etc. See the MSDS sheets. Again common sense dictates – keep away from children and pets, don't eat it, don't drink it, etc.
What or who are formulators (or private label)? We want to start a business selling sustainable (growth) products.
Formulators are companies who purchase our products (typically the concentrated microbial inoculants) and add other ingredients or carriers to form their proprietary blend. The ingredients vary from just adding urea, to adding a spectrum of organic fertilizers, to adding complex biostimulant packages including specific macro & micro plant nutrients. Formulators come in all shapes and sizes from those who have all in- house capabilities to those contracting all blending and packaging to us or dedicated packaging facilities.
Private label: Are companies that resell our product under their own brand name with nothing more than a label change.
Do you keep your relationship with your partners / formulators (or private label) confidential?
Absolutely. We respect the wholesale business model we have with our formulators and private label companies. We safe guard all confidential research or marketing data shared with us. The only "sharing" we do is this sanitized FAQ compilation which is a summary of questions received directly from end users, formulators and private label companies.
Do you have exclusive distributorship agreements?
Generally we do not have exclusive partners. Exclusive agreements are limited to a few areas where market dynamics favor this type of arrangement. In such cases we enter into defined agreements with qualified companies who have demonstrated repeatable performance, have a dedicated sales and marketing group, meet mutually agreed minimum targets escalated year over year, and have the financial security to support such an arrangement. Details of all the requirements would be reviewed with candidate at the appropriate time.
Will you provide US (or metric) labels?
Yes our newly introduced "end-use" labels have both metric and imperial (US customary) units.
Do you facilitate with export requirements?
Most of our partners handle this directly or through their nominated freight forwarder. We will be happy to assist you as needed and to our capability.
What is a rhizosphere?
The soil around the roots – well, that's the short version. The rhizosphere (see rhizosphere article) is the soil that is in direct communication or influenced directly or indirectly by the roots through root secretions, exudates, and the sloughing off of dead root cells / root hairs. By contrast all other soil is called bulk soil. The rhizosphere contains hundreds to thousands of times more microbial life than bulk soil. Some trivia:
- The microbial population density in the rhizosphere varies greatly with the plants maturity stage.
- The pH of the rhizosphere soil differs from the bulk soil and also differs along the length of the root – being more acidic at the growing end. It will be higher for ammoniacal versus nitrate supplied nitrogen.
- There is an electric current that circulates the roots inward at the growth end and outward in the older root zone (Pilet et al., 1983).
What is PGPR?
Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria – A catchall phrase for the beneficial soil bacteria that directly or indirectly promotes plant health. It is generally accepted that these were first defined by Kloepper et al, "Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria on Radishes" in Proc. 4th Int. Conf. Plant Path. Bact. Angers, France in 1978. As expected, this is an area receiving much attention.
How do (we) know the product is working?
Various methods are used by professionals. These range from rigorous assays (in field and/or in controlled growing conditions) to simple Brix tests. Remember Brix readings are a relative not absolute value so make sure you test under the same conditions and at the same time of day. The same plant will give different readings between the morning and afternoon or between a sunny or cloudy day. Visual observation between control and applied fields is the easiest method, requires no tools, but takes a little longer.