Farmer Quits Synthetic Nitrogen, Goes To N-Producing Microbe In Corn

11:55AM Mar 05, 2020
Planting Corn
Corn planting
( File Photo )

The nitrogen program Scott Henry has traditionally used for corn production on his central Iowa farm works just fine. But Henry is changing course in 2020 and plans to use Pivot Bio Proven across all his corn acres. So why fix what’s not broken?

“Because this is an easy win for the crop and environment,” Henry says. “Right or wrong, I’m concerned we’re going to lose the support we have as an industry if we continue our reliance upon synthetic fertilizer sources. We need new tools in the toolbox.”

Proven is the agriculture industry's first sustainable nitrogen-producing microbe for corn. It is applied in-furrow at planting and is 100% available to a growing corn crop, unlike many traditional nitrogen sources.

“Farmers often lose between 40% and 60% of the nitrogen applied in their fields,” estimates Mark Reisinger, vice president of commercial operations for Pivot Bio. Common causes for the loss are leaching and denitrification.

That’s not the case with Proven; it does not degrade, runoff in waterways or volatize into the air.

Proven works by adhering to the epidermis of corn roots, forming a mutualistic relationship with the plant. The microbes feed off the exudates of the plant and deliver nitrogen daily to plant roots throughout the growth cycle.

Henry evaluated Proven in two ways last season across multiple corn fields, totaling 120 acres. In both scenarios, he used

Proven as part of his starter fertilizer mix and applied it with the planter.

“That way it was readily available in the soils where the plants were growing and to the root structures as they were developing,” he says.

Reisinger says the steady, day-to-day availability of Proven to corn roots means no nitrogen deficiency occurs. “It gives the farmer more confidence that the nutrient will be there to help the crop reach its yield potential,” he says.

In one scenario Henry used Proven as a nitrogen replacement in his starter fertilizer mix. In the second scenario, he used Proven in addition to what had been his standard program to see if he could boost corn yields without having to apply additional units of N, as anhydrous, in-season.

“The company had communicated that we could use Proven as a 25 lb. nitrogen replacement product, so that was what we used in our decision-making,” Henry recalls. “I think it was probably closer to a 30- to 40-pound replacement.”

With both application scenarios, Henry says he saw a positive response.

Yield-wise, Henry says his experience last year was in-line with Pivot Bio’s claims. In its 2019 large-scale, on-farm testing program the company reported a 5.8 bu. per acre advantage on fields using Proven compared to those with only synthetic nitrogen. University studies using the product demonstrated similar yield results and saw a 6 bu. per acre yield advantage compared to the control, which used synthetic nitrogen only.

In total, the company’s test plots showed an advantage over synthetic nitrogen plots 89% of the time.

Pivot Bio’s 2019 performance report includes more than 5 million data points collected across thousands of acres, hundreds of soil types, nearly 100 commercial farms, and five Midwest land grant universities.

Retailer Sean Blomgren says Pivot Bio is paving the way for biological companies.  “By understanding their mode of action and executing due diligence sellers and users alike can adopt Proven with confidence,” says Blomgren, owner of Blomgren Seed, Boone, Iowa. “Beyond a quality understanding of the science behind their biological, Pivot Bio has built a value proposition to allow for ‘de-risked’ adoption.  This method allows the seller and grower to feel confident in their decision for 2020.”  

Proven is being marketed across the U.S. with an MSRP of $20 per acre, but the product is essentially sold out for the 2020 season.

Pivot Bio has a pipeline of products in development, according to Pivot Bio’s Reisinger. These include, in addition to corn, products for wheat, soybeans, sorghum and rice. Late in 2018, Pivot Bio announced its expansion into soybeans through a collaboration with Bayer, to develop Bradyrhizobium strains with enhanced nitrogen production for U.S. soybean growers.

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