by Andrew McCrea
Farmer/rancher and Farm Journal TV and radio personality and a Master Storyteller
(Editor’s Note: This is third in a series of articles on the corn test plots planted by Andrew McCrea in early May at his northwest Missouri farm. In his own words, McCrea gives an overview of his crops’ progress.)
This year, I’ve conducted my own on-farm trial of Pivot Bio PROVEN™. I had heard about the product, which has nitrogen-producing microbes that attach to the corn’s root system and produce nitrogen throughout the growing season. The opportunity to have a constant source of nitrogen was something I wanted to try for myself.
Ernie Sanders, vice president of product development for Pivot Bio, helped me with setting up the trial and came to our farm during the growing season to see how our corn was performing. While there, Sanders explained how Pivot Bio PROVEN™ works: “It takes nitrogen out of the air, and through the use of a bacteria, it makes ammonia. That bacteria lives on the roots of corn and it feeds that ammonia to the corn plant.” This process provides a constant source of nitrogen for the plant during the growing season, no matter the weather.
We conducted three trials on our farm. The entire test plot (all three trial conditions) received 125 pounds of anhydrous ammonia last fall. For the first trial, we planted corn with no other inputs. Second, we planted corn with seven gallons per acre of 10-34-0 starter fertilizer, in-furrow (which our neighbor planted for us as I do not have the equipment to apply in-furrow fertilizer). Finally, we had the third trial using Pivot Bio PROVEN™, which was applied in-furrow with the 10-34-0 starter fertilizer.
Sanders makes many stops across the country each year to go into the fields of farmers using Pivot Bio PROVEN™. One of those stops was at our farm, where we went into the test plots in late July to evaluate the crop. His evaluation was invaluable since he had seen so many other fields throughout the country that were using the product.
From the road, you might not be able to tell much difference between the plots. However, when Sanders and I stepped into the field and took samples from each plot, we saw a contrast between trials that he said was common across fields he had viewed this year.
We first measured stalk height. The untreated stalks averaged 98 inches in height and the stalks with Pivot Bio PROVEN™ measured 105 inches. Sanders noted this is common in the fields he has seen. “We’re seeing a consistently taller plant. The stalk diameter is also bigger,” he said. Both factors should show the plant is
healthier and has the capability of producing more corn.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of plant health was what we noticed at the bottom of the plant. Sanders pointed out, “We’re starting to see some firing and dying off of these lower leaves. The plant starts to cannibalize all of the nutrients in these lower leaves and shoves it all up into the ear so it can improve yield.”
The firing on the lower leaves was consistent across the plants in the untreated plot. However, the plants in the Pivot Bio PROVEN™ plot showed little, if any, firing. A few plants had yellowing at the tips of bottom leaves, far different than the plants in the adjacent untreated plot.
“We’ve seen this pretty consistently too, where it stays green longer: it stays healthier longer, and you don’t lose those lower leaves as quickly,” Sanders said of the corn treated with Pivot Bio PROVEN™. “You’re making a bigger factory [in the corn plant] to give you the chance for better yields.”
There’s another interesting observation in the corn treated with Pivot Bio PROVEN™. According to Sanders, “We have tillering in about four out of seven plants in the Pivot Bio PROVEN™ plot. I didn’t see any tillering at all in the untreated.” In our comparison, just over half of the corn plants with Pivot Bio PROVEN™ showed tillering. In the plot that had starter fertilizer but no Pivot Bio PROVEN™, there were about 30% of the plants showing tillering. In the untreated plot, there was no tillering.
As Sanders explained, “Tillering in corn is a really positive thing. It shows good nutrition in that V6 to V12 window. That’s also a really good sign.” All of this visual evidence should point to increased yields at harvest time. I am looking forward to seeing the difference and sharing those results.
Sanders said that using Pivot Bio PROVEN™ is not just about achieving higher yields. It’s also about better management of the nitrogen applied to the corn crop. Some corn growers who used Pivot Bio PROVEN™ in previous years reduced the amount of synthetic fertilizer used on their crops, allowing them to achieve the same or better yields while reducing the cost of nitrogen. Others used Pivot Bio PROVEN™ in addition to the nitrogen they already applied and found a yield increase that more than paid for the product.
We, like other growers who have used Pivot Bio PROVEN™, will need to evaluate how the product best fits into our overall nutrient management plan, and what makes the most sense economically. As we have moved through the season this year, I’ve kept in mind a quote from Kevin Poppel, who farms in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. He said, “We’ve had an opportunity to test a lot of different products from many different companies and this product [Pivot Bio PROVEN™] is by far, over the last five years, the largest net return on investment that we’ve seen.”
So far, our test has shown visible results in the field. We’re now ready to collect harvest data and see how Pivot Bio PROVEN™ best fits into our plans for 2021.