Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is a crop trait that every seed company of the world is looking at with extensive research, and some of that research is based on licensed technology from Arcadia Biosciences as noted by Roger Salameh, vice president of business development for the company, at the recent CropWorld North America conference.
Salameh explained that Arcadia Biosciences has been working on NUE trait technology crops for 10 years, which puts it high on the company's investment for future return but also has huge value to farmers and for improving the environment.
"Nitrogen fertilizer, think about it, is the fuel of agriculture; it is to plants what gasoline is to cars. It's a $60 billion annual business. Interestingly enough, only about 50 percent of applied nitrogen, in most cases even less than that maybe 30 percent, is taken up by the plant. So, if a farmer spends $100 on nitrogen fertilizer, he is getting about $30 to $50 worth of value. The other part is not used by the plant. It goes into runoff and into the air in terms of nitrous oxide. There is an economic value there but there also is an environmental issue that needs to be addressed, Salamah said.
With all those considerations, he added, that NUE biotech trait plants are being mainly developed for "helping growers realize their nitrogen investment in yield potential. A higher yield from the same amount of nitrogen fertilizer or a similar yield as previous years but from using less nitrogen fertilizer has been proven in field demonstrations with canola, sugar beets, rice, wheat and barley.
"They (farmers) can say I want to manage to hit the same yield but use anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent less nitrogen; we have some trials that have shown this with 65 percent less nitrogen (for canola). Or maybe he says I want to try and hit a higher yield while applying the same amount of nitrogen as I would have done before.
Salameh said yield increases have been quite significant with the NUE technology platform. "In replicated trials in multiple crops, we have seen yield increases in excess of 15 percent over the control.
According to Salameh, quoting from a report of the World Resources Initiative of 2008, agriculture is the number two industrial source of greenhouse gases. Electricity and heat generation is number one and transportation is number three, at a level about equal to agriculture.
In the speaker's presentation he also contended nitrogen is the main source of that agriculture air pollution. "Nitrogen is the key driver in that it converts to nitrous oxide in the soil, and nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, he said without providing an explanation.
If all the nitrogen emissions that go into the air from agriculture were cut by 50 percent, Salameh claimed, it would be equivalent of taking all 321 million cars in the U.S., United Kingdom and France off the road in reducing greenhouse gas effect.
With NUE plants, he said, "Think about an environment where you have a tool that incents farmers to produce at a very high level of efficiency, both for their economic value but also for environmental value.
When collaborators and partners with Arcadia Biosciences will be marketing a full line of seed touting these large yield increases with such huge changes in nitrogen use efficiency was not addressed by Salameh.
Traits that are discovered by public institutions and private companies need to be tested in real production situations, and Salameh said that is a void Arcadia Bioscience fills. He noted some of the area where the company has invested extensively in plant technology besides nitrogen efficiency water efficiency, salt tolerance, heat tolerance, herbicide tolerant wheat, healthy edible oils and enhanced nutrition wheat.
"As a company we don't spend a lot of time developing new leads, and there is a very simple reason for that, Salameh said. "Thousands of researchers around the world at public institutions, private institutions and other private companies are generating lots of leads. Sometimes those leads go somewhere. More often than not they don't, particularly at the university level. Someone is just interested in a topic, and they want to publish a paper. They produce plants, they generate some results, they publish a paper and sometimes the work ends there.
"So, where we come in is that we collaborate with public institutions and private companies saying let's bring that lead into Arcadia. Our expertise is developing methods of testing those leads in the field where it really matters and further advancing those leads further down the pipeline. And if they are successful, we'll take them to the commercial phase.