News & Insights

Building Trust in Biologicals

At Trace, we leverage the power of soil biology to improve agricultural decisions. Understanding the diversity of the microorganisms living in a soil (aka the soil microbiome) can help growers make soil management decisions to raise a successful crop and keep their soil healthy. A part of soil management is deciding how much and what types of products to use, from fertilizers and nutrient stabilization products to pest control. While these inputs are usually necessary for growing crops, using too much or using them incorrectly can have both economic and environmental ramifications.

Enter: biologicals.

Over the past two decades, development of biological products has matched or outpaced development of “conventional” inputs (1). Biological products are solutions derived from nature and are produced with sustainability in mind. In general, they are less damaging to the environment, less hazardous to farmworkers and the surrounding community, more economical, and promote the overall health of a farm by improving biodiversity and curbing the development of pesticide resistance. While this all sounds well and good, adoption of a new type of product is a risk for growers.

According to the 2023 Biologicals Survey by Crop Life, the largest barrier to adoption of biologicals is trust (2). This is also a recurring theme in conversations Trace agronomists and scientists are having in the field. As experts in soil biology, we see the incredible value in biologicals, but how can we help instill trust that they will work?

The first step in building trust is to foster understanding. What are all of these biological products? They can be organized in two different ways: what they are made of and what benefits they bring to crops.

What are biologicals made of?

  • Microorganisms: bacteria, fungi, and/or protists
  • Biomolecules: proteins or sugars found in nature and isolated during manufacturing (also known as natural products)
  • Semiochemicals: pheromones and plant volatiles

What benefits do biologicals have?

  • Biofertilizer: increasing plant-available nutrient levels in the soil, usually N and P
  • Biopesticide (aka biocontrol): controlling pests like weeds, pathogens, and insects
  • Biostimulant: perform other critical functions to improve plant growth

With this in mind, it is clear that the application of biologicals cannot be treated with a “one size fits all” approach. Working in agriculture, we are aware that there are many variables at play when considering how well a crop performs. Geography, soil type, seed genetics, other inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), tillage, cover cropping, and more—these all impact crop performance. Many of these factors will also impact the efficacy of biologicals. When not taken into consideration, decreased efficacy may cause growers to lose trust that biologicals can work.

Greenhouse trials of several types of plants.

How does Trace Genomics evaluate biological products?

At Trace, we work with Next Generation Product companies to evaluate their product performance under different soils and in combination with other inputs to build confidence in product placement. This looks like:

  • Product composition verification. We provide objective, third-party verification of a precise formulation. This data helps inform QA/QC processes, product labeling and provides certainty to customers.
  • Formulation applications. We design and execute experiments to evaluate the impact of different product formulations and co-applications on the efficacy of a biological product. This will help your product perform its best.
  • R&D. With a customized growth chamber using soil from the field, Trace Genomics can perform complete R&D testing on products in a controlled environment.
  • Field trials. Through robust field trials, we can evaluate and identify which real-world environments are most conducive to the success of your specific product formulation. This allows for data-driven product placement based on a complete analysis of the soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties.
  • State-by-state regulatory support. Our unmatched, industry-leading database provides comprehensive data and context for soil analysis around the world. Ag product companies can expedite their regulatory dossier assembly and approval using verifiable data that shows which microbes are naturally occurring in specific geographic areas, providing critical information when preparing to launch a new product.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help provide data and insights to inform biological product placement and selection.

About the author: Dr. Tuesday Simmons is the Science Writer at Trace Genomics. She earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley, studying the root microbiome of cereal crops.


  1. Evolution of the Crop Protection Industry since 1960. (2018). Phillips McDougall.
  2. Sfiligoj, E. (2023, March 1). Plenty to Dissect with the 2023 Biologicals Survey Results – CropLife.