Iowa State study measures Pivot Bio environmental benefits

Richard Broglie, Ph.D. August 27, 2020

Pivot Bio is a data-driven company. We work with the best scientists and agronomists to get a detailed understanding of the way our microbes interact with the plant to produce nitrogen as well as how that nitrogen impacts the environment. The collaboration among Iowa State University, (ISU), the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council (INREC), and Pivot Bio is an important step in demonstrating that nitrogen from Pivot Bio PROVEN® is less likely to negatively impact the environment than synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. 

The ability to replace synthetic nitrogen with nitrogen-producing microbes has been a focus of intense research for more than 40 years. Approximately half of the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer that farmers apply is lost to the environment. Microbes that provide nitrogen at the root of the crop have the potential to reduce this loss. Nitrogen produced throughout the growing season by root-associated microbes can be used efficiently by the crop, reducing the amount lost to the environment.

Accurately measuring nitrate runoff from soil to water or nitrous oxide lost to the atmosphere can be difficult under field conditions, and the amount of loss can vary widely due to soil types, agronomic practices and weather conditions. Steven Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at ISU, and Dean Lemke, Director of Nutrient Management & Environmental Stewardship of INREC, designed a unique solution that combines the statistical accuracy of lab measurements collected in undisturbed, soil blocks designed to collect data throughout the cropping season. The system utilizes a four-sided metal structure that can be installed in the field without disturbing the underlying soil structure to replicate a farming ecosystem.  These mesocosms enable more precise measurements of nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions. Dr. Hall notes “The goal of this experiment is to assess the environmental impact of the Pivot Bio PROVEN microbes.” Using this novel experimental design, ISU and INREC are able to capture all of the water that flows through the mesocosm and measure the nitrogen lost to leaching as well as measure any nitrogen lost as nitrous oxide gas.  

Dr. Hall says of his current work “if we have three nitrogen fertilizer rates and each pair differs by 30 lb, if we can pick up a difference between these fertilizer rates that gives us some confidence as to whether we can detect an impact of this technology.“ 

The initial results are promising. The amount of water exiting the mesocosm is representative of the water that flows through the surrounding landscape, suggesting that this experiment is a realistic measure of the interaction between the crop and the soil, fertilizer, water, and temperature.  Similarly, nitrous oxide measurements are also representative of the surrounding fields. Even more promising, the initial datasets suggest that it’s not only possible to see the difference in nitrogen loss at different nitrogen application levels, but that Pivot Bio PROVEN® nitrogen doesn’t contribute to nitrogen loss.

We are proud to partner with ISU and INREC to pursue these detailed environmental and agronomic measurements. Field work, like farming, has to contend with obstacles like the extreme weather of 2019 and the recent hurricane force winds from Derecho 2020. At ISU, precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have required more coordination to ensure sample analysis is completed in a timely fashion. But the results from 2019 and the promising preliminary 2020 data suggest that in the years to come this approach to research will yield vital information for growers and academics alike. 

We’re still a few months from harvest, and gathering the agronomic data is the last step in the 2020 study. Growers must be profitable to be sustainable, and Pivot Bio PROVEN® has the potential to do that. In 2019 on-farm trials, growers saw a 6 bushel advantage with Pivot Bio PROVEN®. This fall we will continue to gather more data that demonstrates farmers can achieve more consistent yields while decreasing their dependence on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.  Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on Pivot Bio news research breakthroughs.