Reprogramming soil microbes to produce nitrogen sustainably
For the past few years, Pivot Bio has been developing nitrogen-fixing microbes to replace synthetic fertilizer. They worked tirelessly to create a product that would increase farmer productivity and revenue, decrease farmer costs, overall reduce the cost of food, and do all of this while decreasing world energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and fertilizer runoff and pollution.
Last year, Pivot’s microbes took up residence across 13 states, 47 soil conditions, and 11,000 plots of land in an expansion of ongoing large-scale trials. We’re excited to share those trial results with you today.
Taking the field
In short, you shouldn’t be surprised if Pivot Bio winds up growing a lot of your food by 2025. Their microbes outperformed synthetic fertilizer alone in more than 80% of plots. Farmers using the microbes saw more consistent nitrogen levels (even after difficult weather), an average yield increase of 7.7 bushels of corn per acre, and higher profits than those who did not. In challenging soil conditions, the microbes increased yields by an average 17 bushels per acre. (With corn yield in the US around 176.6 bu/acre, those are increases of 4.4% and 9.6%, respectively.)
Considering these results, we’re not surprised Pivot Bio’s 2019 stock of commercial product is already sold out. The numbers speak for themselves. We’re thrilled the company is generating such strong results and well-deserved demand for their product — and we’re excited about how its widespread adoption will impact the environment, too.
If we seed every one of the country’s 88 million acres of corn with Pivot Bio’s microbes, that’s another 39,000 tons of nitrous oxide emissions reduced – or 2.9 million cars off the road – preventing another 3.9 tons of nitrate runoff on our water.
In the US, runoff’s nutrient pollution impairs 15,000 bodies of water, 101,000 miles of rivers and streams, and two thirds of our coastlines. The Gulf of Mexico hosts a 5,840 square mile dead zone thanks to the runoff of 31 states flowing down the Mississippi River. Reducing fertilizer’s footprint will have a lasting, positive environmental impact with many second- and third-degree effects as well, in everything from tourism to public health.
The long game
Pivot Bio’s early results are incredible, and corn is only the beginning. Other environmentally critical products — for wheat, soybeans, sorghum, and rice — are hurtling down the pipeline. Wheat field trials are already underway, and the company is collaborating with Bayer to improve nitrogen fixing for soybean microbes. In the coming months, Pivot Bio’s products will be applicable to 60% of our 390 million acres of cropland, lightening – and perhaps eliminating – the 14 billion pounds of nitrogen these crops demand each year.
Here in the Bay Area, there’s a lot of talk about being 10% happier. Pivot Bio can make agriculture about 50% happier — and that’s just with their current products. Cereal crops are responsible for half of world fertilizer use, and account for more than 50% of fertilizer pollution (thanks to corn’s particular pitfalls). We can’t wait to see Pivot Bio bring their affordable, sustainable microbes to the farmers growing the majority of the world’s food supply.
In a recent blog post, CEO Karsten Temme wrote about agriculture’s responsibility to support a “healthy planet, healthy people, and healthy profits”. We believe Pivot Bio is poised to do exactly that. Congratulations to the team on building such a game-changing product, and congratulations to the farmers lucky enough to be using the first batch.