Why Pivot Bio’s new field data is a boon for sustainable agriculture
Pivot Bio is disrupting the N fertilizer industry with the release of PROVEN™, their sustainable nitrogen-producing microbe for corn. In trials last year, farmers using this flagship product had a 7.7 bushel per acre advantage over chemical fertilizers in all sorts of weather in 13 different states and 47 different soil types. Karsten Temme, CEO and co-founder of Pivot Bio, said in a press release: “The $212 billion fertilizer industry has essentially remained unchanged for 100 years, until now. For the first time, there’s a better alternative.”
Farmers that participated in the trial cited several benefits in addition to increased crop production. They saved money by applying the microbe one time with existing equipment. They worried less because they knew their corn crop was being fertilized consistently by microbes that increased in number and daily nitrogen dose as the root system grew. Using PROVEN™ saved them time; it wasn’t necessary to test the soil, reapply the fertilizer, or take steps to keep the fertilizer from contaminating nearby water sources or polluting the air.
The environmental benefit from this sustainable product is considerable. Nearly 5% of the greenhouse gases emitted annually are from agriculture in the form of nitrous oxide that originates primarily from fertilizer, Pivo Bio’s Industry and Regulatory Affairs Manager, Keira Havens, explained in her 2018 Breakthrough Dialogue Tech Talk. This is not the case with PROVEN™. The environmentally friendly microbe is applied in the furrow and attaches to the root. As a result, volatilization does not take place.
PROVEN™ is already sold-out for 2019, and Pivot Bio estimates that when use of their product reaches thirty-five percent of the U.S. corn market, additional environmental gains will be achieved. Nearly 20,000 metric tons of nitrous oxide emissions – the equivalent of emissions from nearly 1.5 million cars – could be reduced or prevented. In concert with this, up to 500,000 metric tons of nitrates could be prevented from leaching into groundwater.
The key to the results achieved by PROVEN™ lies in the fact that Pivot Bio has taken a new approach to the development of this product, Havens said. Rather than work with an “either/or” mindset where something can either be economically efficient or environmentally beneficial, they moved into a “both/and” mindset. This allowed them to envision products that are both efficient and effective at preserving the environment. They then rethought the process of catalyzing nitrogen and explored ways to move away from the Haber Bosch method of synthetic nitrogen production.
The Haber Bosch production method is currently the leading method. It catalyzes the nitrogen from the air into a form that can be applied to the roots of corn and utilized by the plant. When it was introduced at the start of the 20th Century, it led to significant gains in crop production. As the need for ever-greater crop yields continues, Haber Bosch is nearing the point of unsustainability. To produce existing production quantities, 2% of total world energy consumption is required. The resulting chemical fertilizer has an environmentally unfriendly 50% waste due to runoff, leaching, and volatilization.
The desire to move in a “both/also” direction led Pivot Bio’s scientists to a solution utilizing microbes. “Through nearly a decade of research, we understand how microbes work in nature before they adapted to heavy fertilizer use. We take that knowledge and enable these naturally-occurring microbes to work as nature intended again,” said Alvin Tasmir, Pivot Bio Chief Science Officer and Co-Founder. By mapping the soil microbiome and studying the characteristics, Pivot Bio scientists identified microbes with inherent genetic potential for atmospheric nitrogen fixation. When they found microbes that could achieve this while maintaining crop health, they then worked with those microbes to enhance the ability to release nitrogen to the roots. This approach not only resulted in a one-time application, it achieved an adequate supply of nitrogen for the growing plant without harmful environmental effects.
“We are committed to rapidly bringing innovation to the world that supports farmers’ desire to use more sustainable products while continuing to improve their bottom line,” says Temme. In keeping with this desire to meet the needs of the future without compromising the needs of future generations, several new products are in the pipeline. “These include next generation nitrogen-producing microbes for corn and products for wheat, soybeans, sorghum and rice,” Havens says. “The company will expand beyond the U.S. into other parts of the world including Europe, Asia and Latin America.”