The benefits of using phosphite-based plant biostimulants for arable crops is compelling. Six biostimulant producers carried out 178 trials across 13 countries over 4 years and 8 crops to determine the benefit for farmers by measuring yields, root weight, and tissue analysis. Compared to untreated controls, cereals performed 9.9% better, oilseed 15.6% better, and maize 20.7% better. Foliar applications of phosphite-based biostimulants translated into farmers earning an extra 160 euros per hectare for cereals and 250 euros/ha for oilseed. At aggregate level, that means an extra 160,000 tonnes of farm yields today and 150 million euros of farm revenue. That means that farmers’ direct return on investment is 10:1 for foliar-treated cereals, 16:1 for foliar-treated oilseeds, and even more for seed treatments.
There are also benefits for the environment as increased root mass means higher rates of carbon sequestration, fewer nutrients (especially nitrogen) lost to the environment, and better use of available water.
Scientists’ understanding of how phosphite-based plant biostimulants work has taken a big step forward with research recently carried out independently by the University of Nottingham (UK) and Christian-Albrechts-Universität (Kiel, Germany). The Nottingham research focuses on the interdependent physiological effects of root development, nutrient use efficiency, and tolerance to abiotic stress and the underlying mode of action. For their part, researchers in Kiel are looking at root growth, nutrient use efficiency, and yield, as well as the underlying mode of action. Each university studies a different mode of action for the biostimulant function of plant biostimulants. Nottingham researchers identified the role of Cis-Zeatin (a type of cytokinin) while their German counterparts looked at gene expression and the effects on a range of phytohormones. Each university has published a white paper summarizing their work, is in the process of publishing their studies in peer-reviewed journals, and recently presented their findings to policymakers at a workshop held by EBIC on 18 June 2021.