Is Nitrogen-Fixing Corn The Future?

Nutrient-rich U.S. soils spoil corn. In fact, plentiful soil nitrogen caused a microbial function in corn plants to turn off at some point in history, and that function would have made corn fixate its own nitrogen. Ever since, farmers have poured ton after ton of nitrogen in the soil to help corn perform to its potential.

“Fertilizer is the lifeblood of which yields can be realized—it’s what makes discovering the genetic potential of the seed possible,” says Karsten Temme, co-founder and CEO of Pivot Bio. “We’re trying to unlock the crop’s microbiome. We’re realizing there are microbes that are able to fixate nitrogen for corn, not just for soybeans.

“We’re breaking new ground because any microbes that have the potential to fixate nitrogen in cereals just aren’t doing it in any meaningful way because of the nitrate in the soil now,” he adds. “Our technology interacts with those microbes and identifies, characterizes and fine-tunes microbes to realize their full potential—adjusting the genetic material naturally present in a microbe to increase nutrient uptake by the crop.”

The company says these microbials will not only fixate nitrogen but also increase yield by letting the crop take up more nitrogen when needed.

“The rate that corn needs nitrogen is faster than the mineralization of organic matter,” Temme says. “Supplementing with microbial nitrogen fixation can unlock a lot of yield potential.”

Temme says the product will fill in nitrogen shortcomings throughout the season, which will be especially beneficial between nitrogen applications when the plant is at risk of running short.

 

Different Delivery. On Technology is applied either as a seed treatment or in-furrow. Unlike rhizobia, which help soybeans fixate nitrogen, the microbials used in corn do not create nodules. Instead, they surround the roots to grow with them and provide nitrogen to all parts of the roots.

“Next summer is what will be the first version of our product—the ‘real’ commercial, generation one product in the hands of growers and corporate partners,” Temme says.

Its limited research results have shown On Technology adds anywhere from 25 lb. to 50 lb. of nitrogen per acre. The company had field testing across the Midwest this past year. Those harvest results aren’t in just yet, so time will tell what the real yield benefit will be to the producer.

And the company wants to expand to wheat, sorghum and rice.

“We’re excited to connect with anyone who wants to develop something to help transform nutrient management,” Temme says.

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