Literally this term means "increasing life" or "health promoting" - a philosophy that has been accepted by growers and gardeners for centuries. Healthy, well-nourished plants grow and yield well and have a much higher disease-resistance threshold. We lost sight of this maxim when a plethora of synthetic agrochemicals were developed as magic bullets in the latter half of the 20th century.
Recent science has produced some rationale for biostimulation and the loss of many specialised agrochemicals has brought recognition that some mixtures at least have a place in modern crop production. Studies in molecular biology are bringing increased understanding of how plants (and animals) respond to each other and their environment.
This includes recognition of the interplay between roots and beneficial microbes in soil. The thin sheath of microbial life that envelopes roots (rhizosphere) is emerging as one of the key drivers for enhancing crop growth. Biostimulants such as seaweed extracts and compost tea, for example, encourage beneficial microbial life in the rhizosphere and diminish plant pathogens.
Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sensible husbandry uses synthetic agrochemicals plus biostimulants. Alone, biostimulants will not support the yield and quality increases necessary for feeding the world's escalating population from a diminishing area of fertile land and limited water supplies. Integrated crop husbandry is essential for that purpose.
We should support research that further unravels the basis of biostimulants by all means, but also encourage chemical industries developing environmentally neutral pesticides. Currently, that is where Europe is failing woefully.
Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international.