Maximizing crop nutrient use is a practice gaining more attention these days. Concern over nitrogen-use efficiency in crops has several startups looking at ways to ensure nutrients applied are used by the crop. There are questions about how these products perform, but one company — Sound Agriculture — recently shared positive data from four years of field trials for its product called Source.
“The data we’ve seen from a large number of farm trials shows that growers using Source can replace 25 to 50 pounds of applied nitrogen per acre,” says Adam Litle, CEO of Sound Agriculture. “That’s about 20% savings, which is based on an average of what is used for corn.”
The product is called Source, which is a microbiome activator that unlocks both nitrogen and phosphorus to increase nutrient-use efficiency. The product stimulates soil microbes that fix nitrogen and solubilize phosphorus, helping the crop make the best use of available nutrients.
“We’ve proven in the lab that nitrogen is better utilized at the cellular level,” Litle says. “And in the field, we’ve shown we can maintain yields with less nitrogen.”
The company recently released information from four years of field trials showing two ways growers can increase their return on investment.
The first is using nitrogen fertilizer more efficiently. Adding Source to the cropping system can improve nitrogen fertilizer efficiency and boost corn yields by 7.5 bushels per acre with an 83% win rate. The product is applied over the crop and can be tank-mixed with an herbicide or fungicide and be part of that pass over a field.
The second is for farmers that may have less efficient nitrogen fertilizer practices, and they can use Source to provide the equivalent of 25 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre while maintaining yield but reducing input costs.
Consistent results with new tech
Litle points out that Source is not a biological product. When applied at the V4 to R3 stage in corn, the active ingredient in Source — maltol lactone — amps up nitrogen availability by the process of stimulating soil microbes.
“There are two benefits. The first is consistency, which is why our win rate is higher in the 80% range,” Litle says. “We’re not dependent on so many variables like the weather. And second, this product is super easy to use and doesn’t require any changes for the farmer.”
He notes that if a new product requires a change in the way farmers have to manage the crop, it can be a challenge to introduce it to the market. “They’re already going over the field with a herbicide or a fungicide, and the product can be tank-mixed then. And retailers love it because they can use it without adding any new equipment.”
The application rate for Source is just 0.7 ounce per acre. When applied, the product translocates in the plant to roots, and there the plant exudes a product that acts like a natural plant hormone “We boost that [nitrogen availability] process stimulating existing microbes to fix more nitrogen,” Litle adds.
While the product is targeted to corn for now, the company is looking at other crops where boosting soil microbes to make nitrogen and phosphorus more available could make a difference including soybeans and cotton.
Putting tool to work
He explains farmers can use the product in two ways. Either add it into the process without changing nitrogen application rates and see the yield boost. Or back off on nitrogen, cutting costs, yet maintain yield. In those trials, the 25 pound-per-acre savings were most common with that second approach, but in some soil types, the savings rose to 50 pounds per acre.
As a startup, Sound Agriculture continues to boost production. In 2020, the company sold out of product. For 2021, production has been boosted tenfold, and there are more retailers offering the product. “We will be able to get Source into the hands of more growers for the 2021 season,” Litle adds.
But work on the product and its efficiency continues. “None of these products work 100% of the time,” Litle says. “I actually want to take that 83% win rate and boost it to 95%.”
That’s going to take some work on application and learning more about how the product performs best in what conditions, soil types and pH levels. Learn more at sound.ag.