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What’s the difference between a Bio-stimulant vs. a Biological?

June 24, 2022

Tim Chitwood

VP of Agronomy Division

Tim Chitwood, VP of Agronomy, QLF Agronomy

For a few farmers and a minority of people working in the field of agronomy (definition—the science of soil management and crop production) words beginning with “Bio” and ending with all kinds of somethings have been recognized, adopted, accepted, and shared for decades and even passed down for generations.  Some of these “bio-words” include biotechnology, biodynamic, bio-fungicide, bio-pesticide, biocontrol, and bio-fertilizers.  But today, more than ever before,  people in the industry are talking and paying a lot more attention to the words biological and bio-stimulant, especially as they relate to biology, soils, and plants.

A survey of several well-informed and experienced people yielded some great responses and were consistent  with the industry’s definitions and understanding of these materials.

Below are a few anonymous quotes from qualified leaders in the industry:

“A biological typically means living substance or organism.  A bio-stimulant can be biological organism or any other substance that reduces plant stress and increases plant growth regardless of its nutrient content,” from Ag Retailer and Crop Consultant.

A bio-stimulant is a product that promotes the increase of microorganism populations by enhancing the environment in which they live and/or by providing food for them to consume. Bio-stimulants do not contain living microorganisms.  A biological is a product that contains cultures of living microorganisms. Biologicals are sometimes known as ‘bugs in a jug.’  The complexity of your soil’s ecosystem surpasses any one person’s understanding. Knowing which microorganism is lacking, or how introducing a population of microorganisms will impact the balance of this ecosystem is, at best, an educated shot in the dark. If a biological product isn’t working in a particular field, it simply may not be the one you need.  Also, adding biologicals to the soil without ensuring an ample food source will yield little to no results.  Adding a bio-stimulant to the mix can help boost the performance and reduce the variability of a biological product. Bio-stimulants can provide additional food and oxygen and reduce the negative impact from salts or heavy metals. You may not need to add additional microorganisms to the ecosystem to reap the benefits of a healthy biological population. Throughout our years of research, bio-stimulants have delivered a more consistent return-on-investment than biologicals,” Agronomist and Researcher.

Something that’s biological either adds to biology, stimulates the biology, or creates an ideal home for a biology.  It focuses on biology, so it’s biological in thought and action.  As for bio-stimulants they just push plants or shoves stimulates to make something grow regardless of what’s already in your soil,” from Author and Bio-Farming Consultant.

“You might ask yourself, Should I be using this stuff?  The term bio-stimulant is defined in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill.  The EPA currently does not regulate bio-stimulants, but this is likely to change in the near future.  The purpose of these products is to stimulate plant growth and optimize plant health. For various reasons, plants that are thus primed are better equipped to handle both biotic and abiotic stresses. Biologicals usually refer to microbes found or applied in the soil or to a plant leaf surface. Biologicals/microbes can exude bio-stimulants,” from Biologist and Product Developer.

There really is NO official ruling or definition for the word biological locally or internationally.  Biological seems to get lumped into and under the category bio-stimulant.  It is very interesting how so many people in the industry can separate and differentiate these two words from each other and recognize them as unique categories that cross over and share mutual benefits.  The most recent USA definition of a Bio-stimulant can be found in the 2018 Farm Bill; “a substance or micro-organism that, when applied to seeds, plants, or the rhizosphere, stimulates natural processes to enhance or benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, or crop quality and yield.”  Compare that to international community.

The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) definition of Bio-stimulant.  ISO 7851:2022(E) 6.1 Plant Bio-stimulantsSubstance(s), microorganism(s) or mixtures thereof, that, when applied to seeds, plants, the rhizosphere, soil or other growth media, act to support a plant’s natural nutrition processes independently of the bio-stimulant’s nutrient content. The plant bio-stimulant thereby improves nutrient availability, uptake or use efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, and consequent growth, development, quality or yield.

Make sure you use a food source with biologicals.  Ag-Tech Consulting research company in Whitewater, Wisconsin, conducted a Corn trial for a biological manufacturer.  They compared an industry standard Low Salt starter and side-dress UAN32% application to QLF’s liquid carbon-based fertilizers, L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP starter and adding LCBF BOOST to UAN32% at side-dress.  Another major difference between treatments was the amount of the biological (bugs in jug) applied with the treatments.  With the 5 gal per acre of 6-24-6 applied in furrow and the side-dress of straight UAN32% a full gallon (128 oz) of this biological was used for each pass (2x—pre and post emerge).  With the L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP and UAN32% with L-CBF BOOST they elected to only use 8 oz per trip.  The results were statistically advantageous with the liquid carbon-based approach.  A fraction use rate of the same biological resulted in clear results, and supports why a food source is important with your fertilizer program.

Use the bio-stimulants in combination with biologicals.  Kelpak is a seaweed extract harvested off the coast of South Africa.  With a unique source and extraction process, this natural derived bio-stimulant can enhance a biologically friendly program promoting plant health and performance.  At Precision Ag Research in Clarion, Iowa, a trial comparing seed treatment and foliar treatments of Kelpak with L-CBF BOOST demonstrated synergy between the two products.  At reproductive stages of growth adding 1 quart of Kelpak to the 2 gal per acre BOOST foliar pass added over +5 more bushels.

Where does QLF Agronomy’s Liquid Carbon Based Fertilizers fit into these descriptions and definitions?  The product L-CBF BOOST 4-0-3-2S is registered as a fertilizer in 32 states.  When you evaluate the proven benefits from using BOOST, we can check the box for benefits from using a Biological and or a Bio-stimulant.  These benefits match up with both people’s opinions and government definitions.  The consumer can help decide how they want to brand us and categorize us.  Undeniably our unique portfolio of quality fertilizers work together in serving a common goal.  That goal is to work in more concert with natural processes, gain efficiencies, and leave our soils in better shape than when we started, L-CBF products demonstrate this. Talk with a QLF Agronomy Representative this season to learn more about how we can complement not only your Biological and Bio-stimulant programs, but improve your basic solutions for sprayer passes and fertilizer applications.  


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