A nitrogen-fixing bacterial input is now available to Canadian growers.
While the developer is touting it as a “revolutionary” tool to push yields and reduce overall input costs, researchers caution such products are not miracle solutions, and can hide more endemic problems.
Why it matters: Some biological inputs can have a positive impact on crops, but proper research data is essential to finding those best suited for various growing conditions.
The biological input Envita is a nitrogen-fixing bacterium produced by Azotic North America, and it has been available to farmers in the United States for more than seven years.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently approved it for use in this country as an in-furrow or foliar application.
The bacteria strain used in Envita was originally discovered in sugarcane by researchers in the United Kingdom. It colonizes plant cells subsequently growing within and giving each cell the ability to fix nitrogen from the air.
Nolan Berg, president of Azotic North America, said in an interview before the product was launched in Canada that the company has yet to find a bland that could not be colonized by the bacterium.
The organism is naturally occurring and endemic in North American soils. With no genetic changes required (its current form is a result of gene selection), Berg says the product benefited from a more direct path to commercialization.
Corn and soybean trial data
Azotic reports that repeated trials show increases in corn yield when its product is used in conjunction with “recommended nitrogen fertility programs.” For results in corn, says Berg, combining Envita with a 27 per cent reduction in nitrogen fertilizer can produce the same yields.
“If a farmer wants to keep with their traditional fertilizer program … we will get a range of five to 15 per cent yield increase,” he says. “If a grower is looking for more productivity, they can go with 100 per cent (fertilizer) and Envita.”
According to an Azotic news release, the two most recent corn trials — conducted in Iowa alongside the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) — showed yield increases of 12 and seven bushels per acre respectively. Both experienced above-average rainfall for the area.
This leads the company to conclude growers can replace up to 50 per cent of a given nitrogen fertility program with Envita, or maintain recommended fertility levels for higher yields.
There were also Canadian trials. Lindsay Glasspoole, the company’s communications manager, reported most were conducted by a contracted grain research organization in Ontario, with corn-specific trials being held largely in the province’s south.
“Canadian corn trial results aligned well with U.S. trials. Canadian trials saw an average seven per cent yield increase across all (nitrogen) fertilizer levels. U.S. trials range from five to 13 per cent yield increases,” says Glasspoole.
Envita is expected to retail in Canada for $9.75 per acre, though she said distribution and retail options are limited given the product’s late registration. Interested parties must register online to receive product.
“This is an introductory price for 2020. We are just starting our planning of 2021 so do not yet have any guidance on 2021 pricing,” she says.
Some look for more validation
John Lauzon, associate agriculture and environmental sciences professor at the University of Guelph, says the two replicated strip-trial reports published by the ISA indicate unexpected results.
“The result I see shows two parallel lines of corn yield across fertilizer nitrogen rates. I would not expect this if indeed the response was related to nitrogen,” Lauzon says, adding he would be interested in being involved with local trials.
“If this was a nitrogen response there would be no difference in yield at the high fertilizer rates as plant requirements would be met with or without it. I would also expect to see a larger response at low nitrogen rates. If the results they show are true, it indicates a non-nitrogen effect.”
Manish Raizada, also a professor in the university’s department of plant agriculture, says biological inputs have potential, but a lack of data can make it difficult to verify effectiveness.
“Based on the independent field trial results that I have seen from Iowa, it appears that this product produces variable results and does not produce significant yield increases under randomized conditions with two independent commercial corn hybrids. Perhaps the company has a larger and more convincing dataset, so I will keep an open mind,” Raizada says.
Biologicals benefit from a systems approach
Christine Brown, field crop sustainability specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, also says an overall lack of independent research poses credibility barriers for some biological inputs.
“The obvious bio-stimulants are inoculants, especially for legume crops, and their economic value has been well documented,” says Brown.
However, she says it’s important to not write off products because biological amendments can work — the key is using the right amendment in a systems approach.
“My concern with biologicals is I’m afraid of people using them in-furrow as a band-aid,” says Brown, adding some of her research indicates biological inputs pair well with compost.
“You will likely see more of an economic response in tired fields as opposed to one where everything has been done right, but at the same time, if there’s nothing to stimulate those biological populations, they won’t do their full job.
“There are many other stimulates being marketed, and I am afraid some will not deliver. We really need side-by-side comparisons.”