NEW biological crop-protection products are starting to find traction among horticulture growers, with potential for them to be taken up by their broadacre counterparts as well.
With horticulture growers increasingly looking at complimentary techniques to traditional chemical treatments for crop protection and disease management, an increasing number have turned to Biofilm for assistance.
Biofilm Crop Protection, based in Bundaberg, conducts research and development and manufacturing of microbial agents targeting agricultural pests and diseases.
Among its guiding principles is that a solution must be regionally and genetically pathogen or symptom-specific and be based on sound biological science.
Its two main products are the soil treatment Rhizo-max and the foliar application Loli-pepta.
Rhizo-max helps with nutrient uptake, enhanced through ion conducting pores that the bacteria create.
The ion-conducting pores in turn facilitate increased uptake of essential plant ions such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and silica.
The beneficial bacteria create a biofilm disease shield around the roots while at the same time stimulate the salicylic acid immune response (SAR), initiating the plant's own defense mechanism.
In Loli-pepta, natural lipopeptides punch thousands of tiny holes through the fungal cell membranes that are present on the plant's surface.
The beneficial bacteria form a matrix as they attach themselves to the plant's surface.
This matrix creates a biofilm disease shield on the plants stem and leaves, which in turn can help reduce disease pressure.
Biofilm sales director John Coulombe said modern growers were seeking more holistic solutions for themselves, something that was evident at horticulture conferences and field days he attended.
As an environmental scientist Mr Coulombe was aware of how large-scale farming could impact the environment.
However, Mr Coulombe said he'd found most growers in Australia were land protectors at heart and would prefer to use products that had little or no negative effects on the environment whenever possible.
"It is important to realise that farmers are responsible for supplying good quality food at a reasonable price, and sometimes it's necessary to use chemicals to achieve this task," he said.
"At the end of the day, growers are mums and dads, they want healthy food for their family and many of them that I've talked to want their children to take over the farm.
"They want to hand over a farm to their children that is healthy and sustainable for many years to come.
"Soil health has come to the forefront of farming, with growers and consultants now realising that soil health is a fundamental component to sustainable agriculture.
"This has caused bio-based alternatives to become an integral part of modern agriculture."
The Biofilm pro-ducts have enjoyed a wide take-up in the major tomato growing areas of Bowen and the Burdekin as growers fight against disease issues.
Traditionally, copper has been used to control bacterial spot, mainly through marginal protection.
Mr Coulombe said many growers had been burnt in the past with "snake oil" products so he made a point of showing, not selling the product.
In fact Biofilm has built its own micro-biology lab in Bundaberg which enables the company to further its understanding of pathogenic issues that affect growers.
By using laboratory, greenhouse and field trial data, Biofilm can determine how its beneficial bacteria is working and its level
Rhizo-max and Loli-pepta have been used by growers as inoculants, pre-emptively colonising plants for the control of a range of bacterial pathogens in field-grown horticultural crops. After being shown a photograph of an improved tomato crop, Bowen/Gumlu-based crop consultant Dale Abbott agreed to try the Loli-pepta foliar spray.
Mr Abbott decided to use Rhizo-max and Loli-pepta following flooding earlier this year caused by a cyclone in northern Queensland.
"We had a number of blocks 1m under water due to a massive rainfall event, and when bacterial spot infected these blocks, we fully expected them to be wiped out with spot," he said.
"We started spraying Loli-pepta and all of the blocks that were underwater produced a substantial amount of marketable fruit, with some of the worst blocks still being picked.
"The growers and I are still amazed that the plants are actually living, let alone producing marketable fruit."
Mr Abbott did not apply any copper formulations to any of the blocks this season.
Mr Coulombe said some consultants and agronomists felt that by repeatedly spraying copper, a bio-accumulation of copper was created, causing more harm to the overall health of the plant, which may cause the plant to be more vulnerable to adverse weather and disease pressure.
"It is not natural for plants to be respiring and growing with so much copper," he said.
"In fact, copper is intended to be a micro trace element, not a macro element. If copper was producing some effect on controlling bacterial spot and there was no other alternative, it might make sense to use large amounts of copper, but when it is having no control, it could become part of the problem."
Mr Coulombe said it was important to keep in mind that Biofilm products were not "silver bullet" solutions and would not replace conventional farming practices.
The results from Bowen showed that although bacterial spot was still present within crops, it was restricted to the base of the plants and prevented from causing significant damage.
Rhizo-max and Loli-pepta are both NASA-certified organic inputs, although used as part of an integrated disease management program. "Beneficial bacteria is part of a complete spray program and should be used accordingly," he said.
It was something Mr Abbott reiterated.
"It is no cure-all - bacterial spot is still in the plants but we are keeping the infection to a manageable level, mainly to the base of the plants," he said.
Both Rhizo-max and Loli-pepta were also evaluated for the control of sclerotinia rot (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) and marketable yield increased in field-grown green beans at Rugby Farms in Stanthorpe this year.
The incidence of sclerotinia rot on leaves and beans was visually assessed at regular intervals in the life of the crop.
The assessment of marketable yield increase was done at harvest.
The level of sclerotinia rot present within the trial area was less than 5 per cent, while marketable yield increases were noted.
The Rhizo-max product, as well as a soluble liquid phosphate fertiliser from Yarra, were trialled on cotton plants at Central Queensland University with results showing seed immersion treatments were shown to significantly increase germination rate and time to germination.
In both trials the most consistently beneficial treatment was shown to be a drench application of Rhizo-max at the recommended application rate of 2L/ha.
Wheat, canola and legume trials have just been completed at Bakers Seeds in Rutherglen, Victoria, with a successful field day and demonstration of results recently held. Biofilm expects widespread adoption in cotton, wheat, legume, pulse and oilseed crops. Biofilm Products are available nationally via all major reseller networks.