What the U.S. Farm Bill Really Means for Biostimulants

With the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill), companies are ready to set sail with new plant biostimulant products flooding into the U.S. agribusiness sector. Right? Wasn’t that the perception with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill? The Farm Bill contained the definition of a plant biostimulant, so now it is official. Unfortunately, the answer is no – not yet. Let’s take a brief look at what it really means.

First, we need to understand that the regulatory elements necessary to keep American agriculture running smoothly are like the gears of a well-oiled machine. Randomly inserting an extra gear into the design would be disastrous. Before a new gear can be integrated, the machine has to be repurposed, design tested, and then commissioned.

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Considering the introduction of the term “plant biostimulant” from the 2018 Farm Bill as a new gear being added to the machine, one can see that we have already entered the repurposing phase. The term was established and signed into law on December 20, 2018 so the framework is in the process of being repurposed. Since we are bound by laws and regulations, we must adhere to the current legal framework, which is set and outlined in 40 CFR 152.6 (g) describing products that meet the criteria for exemption from FIFRA regulation intended to aid in the growth of plants.

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Currently, these are: plant nutrients consisting of macro and micronutrients; plant inoculants consisting of microorganisms that enhance the uptake of nutrients through the root system; and soil amendments that improve soil characteristics for plant growth. It is here that we ultimately want to see the term biostimulants reside, and it must fit within the existing gears and into the confines or framework of the machine.

The next phase that must follow in the process is the design testing. Moreover, one could argue that we have already entered into the design-testing phase, since the 2018 Farm Bill includes a provision requiring USDA, the EPA Administrator, and the States to provide a report to the President and to Congress that identifies the appropriate fit of a plant biostimulant into the legal framework. Now is the time that any design modification desired by industry should be made known. This is the time for recommendations, changes, and input.

Does the definition of a plant stimulant as “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” capture the essence of your product? If not, feedback should be made known sooner rather than later to the authority or organization of your preference. The timeline is ambitious, as the report will be due December 2019 and the kinks in the design need to be vetted and modified. The goal of the report is to identify “any potential regulatory, non-regulatory, and legislative recommendations, including the appropriateness of any definition for plant biostimulant, to ensure the efficient and appropriate review, approval, uniform national labeling, and availability of plant biostimulant products to agricultural producers.”

The process will be followed and EPA will most likely issue a public comment period to discuss the report recommendations and guidance for a plant biostimulant. Once the comment period is over and the regulatory authorities are satisfied, the report will be available for review by Congress. And like the machine, the commissioning phase will follow. Once the legal framework for a plant biostimulant has been decided, the law will be written, the vote will be cast, and the decision will be made final. A new gear will be introduced into the regulatory process and the well-oiled machine of American agricultural regulation.

Stay-tuned for more updates, 2019 will be an interesting year for plant biostimulants both in the U.S. and other geographies.