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    The Biological Opportunity: A Retailer’s Perspective

    May 30, 2023

    When farmers Jake Hoalt, Blake Jones, and George Harris launched their agricultural retailer, Xceleration Ag, in 2019, they had a vision for giving farmers in their area access to new products that could help them improve yields despite southeastern Illinois’s sandy soil and increasing environmental stresses, like drought.

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    In a recent webinar for CropLife (Blake called in from the sprayer!) Hoalt and Jones shared why they prefer biological treatments like biotrinsic® by Indigo, and how they approach trialing new products on their own farms and with their customers to get stronger, more resilient yields.

    Why did you decide to sell biologicals?

    Blake Jones: I feel like the agricultural world is at a turning point and we need to be looking for new and improved ways to increase production per acre. Through using biologicals we're able to improve all crop aspects. We really just need to find a way to produce more on less acres, but I think the time's coming where we are going to be limited on the amount of synthetics we can apply.

    What kinds of challenges are farmers dealing with in your region and how can biologicals be helpful?

    Jake Hoalt: In our region, we've got a lot of light soils, low CECs, anywhere from six CCs on the sand to, on the high end in our area you might get up to the mid to upper teens. We really can't hold a whole lot of synthetic fertilizer and that's where biologicals play a big part in helping to unleash the potential. It's in our soils. We've seen a lot of benefits from using biologicals where one plus one doesn't always equal two, it might equal three or four by stacking biologicals.

    We're really big into our seed treatments. We take a lot of pride in soybean treating. By protecting that seedling, it's just like a human being. If we get a cut in our arm, we're more susceptible to an infection, so if we can protect that root system at an early stage, we don't see near the amount of sudden death in our soils. That's really where we see the biggest benefit: A healthier plant is going to give you a better shot at that yield that we're looking for.

    How do you all approach demo plots trials with products you carry?

    Blake Jones: We usually vet a product for two years on our personal farms, so we'll bring in a product that maybe we have interest in or that somebody's brought to us that they want us to look at. We just run that on our own farms for a couple years to see if it has a merit before bringing it into our actual lineup. Our trials are fairly extensive from planting to harvest. We do tissue samples, we do drone imagery. We go out and walk fields all the time just pulling plants and doing comparisons. The trials are very time-consuming, but I feel like we get a lot of good localized data from it.

    What are some success stories you have had?

    Jake Hoalt: On my own personal farm last year and with our customers, we have seen a lot of success with biotrinsic®. I split 200 acres with biotrinsic® versus just our standard seed treatment. Over those 200 acres, I had a two-bushel advantage. We're always a week away from the drought in our soils. We can have an inch of rain, and then we're praying for another rain in five to seven days just because we're always on the verge of burning up, especially on the sand south of us, so I think that's where Indigo really comes in, helps with that heat and drought stress.

    Blake Jones: I had a grower last year that, every year has stress issues, so I recommended that he try biotrinsic® and he split his planter on that 80 that year. July rolled around, and we were pretty dry and hot, which is pretty standard for southern Illinois. He called me and said, “Hey, come over here, I want you to look at something." Guys usually call you with problems, not with good things to say. I went over expecting to be drilled on something, and he was all smiles. He said, "I don't know what you had me use on this corn, but the difference is night and day." And we did some imagery on it, and it was. Some of the corn where he didn't apply the biotrinsic® was rolled up and you could just tell it was stressed to the max. Where we applied biotrinsic® it was actually handling it quite well.

    Beyond yield uplift, what are some economic and agronomic benefits of using biologicals?

    Jake Hoalt: At the end of the day, yield is what all farmers are going for— that's what pays the bills, that's what feeds the world. Beyond that, looking to the future, by using biologicals and the science behind it we can start decreasing our use of synthetic fertilizer and have a brighter future for our kids for the next generation. We really concentrate on healthy soils and trying to be sustainable for the future.

    What do you tell farmers who are on the fence about trying biologicals?

    Blake Jones: We like to always just reiterate to keep an open mind and we like to show them how to get started with maybe some of their own on-farm trials and just let them see how it performs on their personal farms. It's nice to be able to show them the success that we've had on our personal farms, doing our own trialing and on other growers farms as well.

    Jake Hoalt: That’s a big benefit of having our own farms. I'm not going to go out and sell something that I'm not using myself. I think that really gives farmers a bit more confidence. We're not the average salesman that's coming by to try to sell you snake oil or something like that. We're using the products on our own farms and we can show you the data, come out to our farms and see it hands on. We do pretty extensive plots and it's fun to get guys out there and do root digs and see it hands on and I think that gives them a lot more confidence in it.

    What questions do farmers usually have when they are considering bios?

    Blake Jones: The big one is: How do I know it works? This is why we take so much time and effort to do on-farm trials ourselves for localized data.

    Jake Hoalt: We do a lot of tissue sampling too with some of the other biologicals that we work with. They're producing nitrogens. We can do tissue samples and show them the chlorophyll test and show them, "Hey, these bugs are there. They're working, they're producing nitrogen for the plant." And just like with your guys' microbes, we can send them off for testing if the guys want to, and we're more than happy to do that.

    What do you consider the long-term risk if a farmer does not start introducing biologicals to their operation?

    Blake Jones: There is a need to produce more on less land. In order to achieve this goal, we feel biologicals are necessary. Without them you may risk seeing lower ROIs or plant and/or soil health and just overall, the plant might not meet its full potential. I believe there's also the risk of not being able to use a full synthetic program in the future. 

    Jake Hoalt: Man, nailing the head there. I think the biggest thing is starting to step away a little bit from using so much synthetics because that's terrible for the soil. We got to have it, I realize that, but maybe there's one day where we don't really need it at all and we can use natural biology to produce the crop that we need. I tell guys, “you wouldn't go out and spread salt on your garden, would you?” A lot of these synthetics are very high in salt and they don't... we've done it for so long that we don't think about it, but once you get guys thinking about it and get that initial thought process moving, it's a pretty good conversation. We've stepped on a lot of farms where guys aren't interested and then three hours later we're talking about a program for them to try. It's the future; that's our belief anyway.

    Do you think farmers are more willing to use biologicals today than the years past and why?

    Jake Hoalt: I think so. Just the average age of the farmer is what? Over 60 years old, but we are getting into a younger generation now. You guys are more open-minded and even the older generation, it amazes me how technology advanced they are. To find the guy that's still doing what he did in the 1960s, few and far between, because if you don't progress with the times, then it's hard to stay in business and farming is a business anymore. That's not just a way of life, so there's still skepticism out there, but we're getting past that and it's been fun to do.

    Blake Jones: I was just going to say, I definitely think we're seeing a big trend in the biological direction. Just look at the marketplace and how many startups and whatnot have come around in the biological world. There's evidently a demand for it and a need for it, or we wouldn't be seeing this trend. Biologicals do so many things from controlling insects, weeds, fungus, as well as more defined nutrition. Biologicals, and like Jake said earlier, in the end that just helps us by replacing more and more synthetics.

    What has been your experience with Indigo's biologicals?

    Jake Hoalt: We've had a great experience with them. They're very easy to use. They're very economical for the farmer. They're pretty low cost per acre and bring a very nice ROI to the farm. The seed treatments have been phenomenal, whether that's liquid at the seed treater or box-to-box application, flowability, everything's been great.

    When do you recommend Indigo over a different brand of biologicals?

    Blake Jones: Indigo products for us, they provide a focus on identifying microbes that have evolved in conjunction with plants over time to optimize health and, in turn, maximize productivity. In order to achieve our vision at Xceleration, we use biologicals to maintain healthier soils, plants and seeds, and this is accomplished by working with and also recommending high quality suppliers like Indigo to bring the very best solutions to our fields and our customers’ fields.

    Hear more from XCeleration Ag about the opportunity retailers have with biotrinsic® here:

    Learn more about how Indigo’s biologicals are derived from microbes, and how we scale them for use on the farm. To try out biotrinsic® products, start here.

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