Paper addresses benefits and challenges to alternative nitrogen solutions

A recent paper explores the first commercially available microbial nitrogen product to replace and reduce the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer in agriculture.

Keira Havens, sustainability project manager with Pivot Bio, is the corresponding author of the paper.

“This paper tells the story of how we found the microbe, how we adapted it to be useful to farmers, how we developed a product that worked with the way growers are already growing corn, and then it talks about the results growers saw on their fields,” she says.

She says the paper includes the results of field trials conducted over two years that compared data from farmers growing corn with Pivot Bio PROVEN with untreated control samples.

“Growers saw about a five-bushel increase per acre give or take a bushel and a half. That can be a substantial change. Productivity increases year over year 1-2 percent with new germplasm and this can get you a couple of years ahead. When you have a market like the one we’ve been having where corn is a little bit more valuable, that can add up for a grower particularly on large acreages,” she says. “…Another interesting element is variability within the field was also reduced. Growers know a field can range widely from one spot to another, but it seems potentially having a more consistent nitrogen source especially in the early phases of the season may give those plants a little bit of a head start and even out performance across the field.”

In 2019, more than 2.5 million yield data points were generated from 38 farms growing corn with Pivot Bio Proven alongside untreated checks in structured field trials that were designed and commissioned through a third party. Forty-eight large plot trials were conducted over the two years.

She says challenges were also addressed.

“One of the big challenges for the industry as a whole is that excitement in the laboratory about various strains of microbes that have the potential to be useful for growers doesn’t translate out to viable products or hasn’t in the past,” she says. “We’re able to show by coordinating with teams of experts that are top of their field in understanding the innerworkings of the microbes, characterizing them, and adapting them and building out a viable product that works with the hectic nature of planting. Integrating all of those aspects to create this product is one challenge we’ve put a lot of effort into solving.”

She says there are also environmental benefits.  

“If you’re able to replace synthetic nitrogen fertilizer with nitrogen that is fixed continuously by microbes living on the root of the plant, you have the opportunity to address one of the thorniest problems in agriculture, which is the loss of excess nitrogen,” she says. “…The goal is to continue improving the microbe and its capacity for biological nitrogen fixation so we can begin replacing synthetic nitrogen fertilizer at a scale that really makes a difference.”

Click here for more information on “Enabling Biological Nitrogen Fixation for Cereal Crops in Fertilized Fields.”

Audio: Kiera Havens

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