The manufacturers of fertilizer additives and enhancers almost unanimously agree that the industry’s current (if not ever-present) No. 1 concern is guaranteeing improved return on growers’ investments.
“When thinking about the most pressing issues with additives and enhancers, manufacturers and retailers must continue to keep price top of mind,” Jim Krebsbach, Vice President of Sales, Midwestern BioAg, Madison, WI, says. “In order to introduce a product to a farm, it’s going to continue to be extremely important to provide the grower with data that represents a positive ROI. Once the purchase decision has been made, it’s imperative that the retailer is spending additional time reviewing the grower’s agronomic plan, providing insightful recommendations, and monitoring crop health throughout the growing season.”
Compounding the matter, a cold, wet spring, coupled with a challenging market, has growers questioning all of their input decisions this season, according to Kyle Lilly, Senior Product Manager, Compass Minerals, Overland Park, KS.
“Return on investment for new technologies and new products is extremely important to growers and retailers this year,” Lilly says. “It will be important for decision makers to understand the science behind how additives/enhancers work. Nearly every product has data, but not all suppliers can accurately explain how their products work. An understanding of the science and mode of action will lead to better product recommendations and positioning rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.”
New chemistry and technology are allowing manufacturers to create enhancement products that improve water and nutrient uptake, Brian Haschmeyer, Director of Discovery and Innovation, BRANDT, Springfield, IL, says. “This has a host of benefits, including improved plant start-up, improved plant and root health, and improved nutrient and water uptake, as well as stress and drought mitigation. (Enhancers) also help prevent or manage nutrient tie-up in the soil and inside the plant. As a result, we are seeing better results from the fertilizers when enhancers are used, and this is translating to yield.”
Summed up, additives “really are one of the best ROI bangs for the buck the grower can make,” Nick Favret, Senior Product Director, Verdesian Life Sciences, Cary, NC, says.
The N Factor
Delving deeper into the topic, one major issue is appreciating the value of extending the life of applied nitrogen (N), Kent Woodall, Director of Marketing, Rosen’s Inc., Liberty, MO, says. “The longer nitrogen is available in the root zone, the greater the chance for corn plants to reach maximum yield potential,” he says. “Nitrogen needs to be available when corn needs it most. Approximately 80% of the plant’s total nitrogen need occurs about 75 days after emergence.”
John D. Bailey, National Product Manager-Row Crops, Timac Agro USA, Reading, PA, calls poor nitrogen use efficiency the “single-most pressing fertilizer issue that faces us in agriculture.”
“It causes yield loss, environmental degradation, excessive regulations, and poor ROI,” he says. “Putting out nitrogen at the wrong time, at the wrong rate, in the wrong form, or the wrong place happens more frequently than it should since most farmers don’t use stabilizers.
“With more than 40 years of trusted experience at the retailer level, plus one of the most extensive bodies of university research available, it’s difficult to understand why there are so many untreated acres left out there. As I travel across the U.S. and engage the various territories, I find that too many people believe that “more pounds on the ground” is the solution. Unfortunately, that rarely works out in the farmers’ favor.”
Retailers and farmers should set aside tight corn production budgets and begin working through their nitrogen programs to increase nitrogen use efficiency, Paul Reising, Director, Strategic Product Management, Actagro, Fresno, CA, says.
“The industry has made great strides on timing, and split applications have improved efficiency in the last several years. But the drum beat of regulations doesn’t go away, and farmers need to look at new products as tools to improve profitability, N efficiency, and yield — all at the same time,” Reising says. “This program approach for nitrogen management varies according to your growing conditions and operational systems but can be customized for any specific situation for the best potential outcome.”
Lilly, meanwhile, recommends the use of micronutrients as catalysts for N, phosphorus (P), potassium (K) uptake. “The additive/enhancer category is showing growth in the micronutrient subcategory,” he says. “We see innovation in nickel, cobalt, and molybdenum, in particular, being used to improve nitrogen use efficiency. These nutrients are affecting key enzymes in the plant, including nitrogenase, which is a necessary cofactor of nitrogen production. This will lead to more amino acid production, eventually leading to more efficient and larger plant growth.”
In addition to ROI, the nutrient stewardship component must always be considered, Haschmeyer says. Growers have relayed their stewardship concerns to manufacturers, including Organisan, in Broussard, LA, and Actagro.
“We meet with and talk to growers on a daily basis, and the single-most pressing issue is efficacy and environmental safety,” Organisan President Robin Borden says. “Growers want to find quality products that give them a competitive edge that help increase their profitability but for less investment. Another issue we are seeing and hearing a lot about is safety. Growers want products that are safe to use, safe on their plants, safe for the people applying them, and products that are simply more environmentally friendly.”
Reising says many farmers want to make sure they are doing the right thing with nitrogen management AND stewardship but also don’t want to kill or suppress their soil microbial populations. “Conventional N additives that are EPA-registered pesticides are a concern for them,” he says.
Says BRANDT’S Haschmeyer: “Using additives to improve nutrient uptake helps ensure that applications are getting inside the plant, which suggests less nutrient run-off. It can help reduce applied fertilizer volumes.”
Regardless of the fertilizer being applied, Rosen’s Woodall recommends that the 4R Principles — right source, right rate, right time, right place — always be considered to improve agricultural productivity and minimize environmental impact.
Advice for Ag Retailers
One of the greatest challenges to improving farm revenue, Timac’s Bailey says, is a lack of continued education for retail personnel and farmers.
“The person at the blender and the person in the spreader need to be just as informed as the agronomists as to when stabilizers bring value,” Bailey says. “The best retailers are the proactive ones that offer multiple opportunities for personnel and grower education. They know which stabilizers to use on which particular farm because they know the different products and they know their farmers’ application methods. … Retailers can play a key role in protecting farmers from revenue loss by intervening where appropriate. From where I sit, farmers deserve better fertilizer performance, especially under the current market conditions.”
The industry is in the midst of a “revolution” when it comes to soil science research, according to Travis Bayer, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Sound Agriculture, Emeryville, CA. “The tools to understand the interactions between nutrient, soil, and crop are exploding,” he says, “so (retailers should) be wary of new products that don’t have detailed molecular or microbiology data to back them up.”
Woodall wants retailers to realize the importance of phosphate availability and the “vital role” it plays in crop growth and development. “Phosphorus fertility is a marathon, not a sprint. Many universities recommend a four- to eight-year build-up plan. As much as 75% to 95% of applied phosphate fertilizer becomes fixed or ‘tied up’ in the soil, leaving it unavailable for plant uptake. The loss of phosphorus is due to the positive charge of cations, like calcium, magnesium, iron, and aluminum, in the soil, water, and fertilizer. Your soil test values may show high P, but your corn may be phosphate deficient. The use of phosphate stabilizers can greatly reduce the amount of phosphate that gets tied up in the soil and ensure more phosphate is available for plant uptake.”
Organisan’s Borden says he would like ag retailers to know how important chitosan is to the ag chemical industry. “We want them to understand where it comes from, how it is used throughout the world, and primarily that there is now a chitosan-based option in the adjuvant and enhancer world, made in the USA,” he says. “Also important to note is this formula can be applied via broadcast spray, irrigation, or by soil application.”
Adds Ian Loar, Senior Marketing Manager, Plant Nutrition, Loveland Products, Loveland, CO: “The innovation pipeline in the traditional crop protection product space is currently thin. Growers and retailers will see more value in looking to nutrient use efficiency and biostimulant or biological technologies to create opportunities in innovation and profitability.”
Looking toward the remainder of 2019, industry officials expect to see:
Growers looking for solutions that enhance soil health and plant productivity while fitting into a program where ROI makes sense. “2018 was a challenging year, and we still had good results that showed consistent ROI for farmers.” (Reising)
Continued substantial scientific breakthroughs and discoveries made in the enzyme space. “We’re now able to pinpoint which specific enzymes impact specific nutrients, such as phosphorus, in the soil. This allows us to deliver high concentrations of a specific enzyme to perform a specific function in the plant.” (Haschmeyer)
Products that consistently increase nutrient use efficiency and improve soil health. “(They) will continue to create a buzz throughout 2019. Each year these products will collect more trial data, and the benefit of a healthy soil biology will continue to show increased plant efficiency and production.” (Krebsbach)
The promise of digital and technology catching up with growers’ needs. “We’re able to deploy a combination of agronomic tools and products with digital analytics to improve outcomes in innovative ways.” (Loar)
Continued discussion on the issue of how to manage transpiration. “Whether a grower is located in a drought region or rainy area, the management of the stoma opening in plants to increase the intake and process whatever is being applied is a matter of knowing how and when to stimulate the intake. … We are already seeing growers expanding their test plot acres to try newer alternative formulations with a prime focus on testing how they can manage transpiration in their climates.” (Borden)
A possible movement to provide growers a predictive analysis of whether a product will give a good return. “This could be platforms that look at weather trends and predict fertilizer loss or soil mapping that prescribes nutrient management zones.” (Bayer)
New formulations with new forms of active ingredients that extend the time in which nitrogen is protected in the field. “For instance, Timac Agro USA has more than 15 partnerships with American universities, with whom we have conducted extensive tests on the new formulas which look promising and could help improve farmers’ bottom line even more.” (Bailey)
Actagro — The company has developed soil and plant health technologies for more than 37 years. Proximus is its first patent-pending product for liquid nitrogen management that is approved for all crops in North America. Proximus has two means of improving nitrogen management by increasing nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and decreasing nitrate leaching. Replicated third-party research supports improved NUE and up to 69% less seasonal nitrate-leaching losses compared to UAN applied alone.
BRANDT — For row crops the company is focusing on BRANDT EnzUp Zn, which it presented in February at Commodity Classic in the What’s New Session. The formulation contains high concentrations of two specific enzymes that have been protected so that they can remain active in the soil longer. The specific enzymes were selected for their ability to convert inorganic nutrients into plant-available nutrients in the soil, as well as their ability to create a draw of water and nutrients toward the root zone. The enzymes boost soil microbial activity and draw more water and nutrients toward the root zone to increase uptake. This boosts root growth, microbial activity, water and nutrient flow, and uptake.
Compass Minerals — The company this year launched, Rocket Seeds, a new seed-applied nutritional portfolio. The portfolio consists of easy-to-apply dry and liquid formulations designed to combat early-season stresses and to provide a boost during the critical early period of the crop’s growth cycle. Also, Compass Minerals aims to be the leader in NiCoMo (nickel, cobalt, and molybdenum). This combination of nutrients was discovered as a best practice in Brazil for record-setting soybean yields. Further testing showed the nutrients are relevant in North America as well. ProAcqua Pulse is a foliar-applied product containing NiCoMo. Third-party testing of 106 data points showed a foliar application of ProAcqua Pulse resulted in a 5% average yield increase on soybeans. The product is recommended to be applied at 8 ounces per acre with a post-emergent herbicide.
Midwestern BioAg — The company’s carbon-based granulated fertilizer, TerraNu Technology, is continuing to gain traction among growers due to its ability to stimulate soil biology and increase NUE, according to Krebsbach. “Not only is the product showing great results from the grower’s perspective, but ag retailer demand is growing due to TerraNu’s ability to be blended with other dry products and added to any existing fertility program without drastic changes,” he says. “In 2019 we expect to see another year of robust crop response results that will complement our 2018 data (12 bushels per acre advantage and $18 ROI on corn with TerraNu MicroPack).”
Loveland Products — The company has launched new products, such as Maritime and Prologue, to help growers deal with critical issues, including nutrient availability, abiotic stress, and water quality. Also, Loveland launched a digital platform to help growers understand how to deploy the company’s technologies.
Organisan — The company recently launched two versions of its chitosan-based concentrated adjuvant, Enhancer. When combined with any current crop treatment, the Enhancer products have been proven to be a powerful tool for increasing overall production by decreasing transpiration up to 50%, extending growing seasons, and overall improving the health and vigor of plants, Borden says. Organisan also increased production of Nemasan, its chitosan-based EPA-registered nematicide. Nemasan offers suppression/control of nematodes on a wide species basis. Unlike traditional PPE requirements, Nemasan does not require the traditional PPE’s for application (no respirations, no gloves, no spray suits).
Rosen’s – The company remains focused on the products that can best help increase whole farm income, according to Woodall. “Our portfolio of nitrogen and phosphate additives have been researched and proven across multiple universities, third-part cooperators, and grower trials,” he says. “Fertilizer is between 40% to 50% of the total input cost for corn production. These additives limit losses and improve gains, providing a positive ROI. Using both nitrogen and phosphate additives make solid agronomic and economic sense, what we call ‘agro-economics.’”
Sound Agriculture — The company is launching demonstration trials of its new product, Source, as it prepares for 2020 commercial availability. “This product takes a radically different approach to nutrient management,” Bayer says. “Source enables the soil to produce nitrogen and phosphorus directly at the root zone by activating natural microbes in every field. Source is shelf stable and can be tank-mixed with herbicides and fungicides.”
Timac Agro USA — The company is evaluating around 10 new formulations, Bailey says, from new activated humate-based carrier systems to a complete biostimulant program dedicated to proliferation of the monocot root system. “Our stabilizers are also in product development mode. We are creating new formulations that provide more protection for longer periods of time and are focused on giving farmers more complete options,” he says.
Verdesian — According to Favret, the technology backbone behind the company’s NUE-Charge G and Avail T5 has been proven by university research and the performance across more than 500 trials and 50 million acres in the field.