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Water Knows No State Line: Biological Products for Cleaner Water

Natalie Hubbard April 10, 2019

Every spring, a dead zone blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the Mississippi River. In this hypoxic (low-oxygen) environment, little grows and little lives: mobile animals, like fish, swim out in search of better waters, while fixed marine life merely dies off.

This dead zone is approximately 8,500 square miles, nearly the size of New Jersey, and is one of more than 400 across the world.[1] As NOAA explains, dead zones are often caused by nutrient pollution. And in this particular case, much of that pollution comes from farm run-off. Every year, as farmers prepare their land for the new growing season, spring rains wash a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer into the Ohio River (the Mississippi's main feeder) and the Mississippi River itself, which then flows into the gulf.

This past February, I joined researchers from industry and academia at the AgBiotech Microbiome Movement in Durham, NC, and outlined this same scenario. Fortunately, we know how and why this is happening and 12 states, along with five federal agencies and Native American tribal representatives, have formed the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force to create a solution. As Pivot Bio’s VP of Regulatory and Government Affairs, a plant scientist, and someone who is concerned about the health of our planet, I’m tremendously excited by this work, but I also understand some of the unique challenges they’ll face. Though water knows no state boundaries, the regulatory landscape is quite different.

Our product, Pivot Bio PROVEN™, is a biological alternative to the synthetic nitrogen farmers use to fertilize their crops. Applied at planting, Pivot Bio PROVEN™ is an excellent option for farmers along the Mississippi watershed — and everywhere else — who are looking to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers. Although microbes occur naturally in all soils, they currently occupy a tricky area in the regulatory world. Pivot Bio’s microbes fall into EPA’s soil amendments category and are therefore regulated by individual states. Depending on a state’s requirements, the approval process can take from one to three years. For growers across the nation, including those along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, this means that while Pivot Bio PROVEN™, and products like it, might be approved for one farm, just across the state line, they’re not yet available. We have enjoyed tremendous success registering our product and making it available to growers - we are registered in 23 states and counting! 

We at Pivot Bio are committed to ensuring all growers have access to products that can support both their farming and environmental goals, and as such, we sit on the Biological Products Industry Alliance (BPIA) — a trade association that, describes itself as promoting “the responsible development of safe and effective biological products.” A major focus of the industry today is working toward creating clear, consistent and risk-appropriate regulatory pathways for biological products.

As The Microbiome Movement Program Director Trish Kruk noted, the rise of environmentally sustainable biological products is set to usher in a second green revolution, and we at Pivot Bio are thrilled to be part of the wave making it easier for farmers to be great growers and great stewards of their land, no matter where they live.

[1] Scientific American, “What Causes Ocean ‘Dead Zones?’