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Agribusiness: High yields with Carbon Power products

University researchers often say they need three years of testing to determine whether a new product will perform up to expectations.

John Bradley doesn’t quite have three years of data with Carbon Boost-S, but he’s getting there. He and other Floratine BioSciences, Inc., researchers and cooperators believe what they’ve seen in two years of research shows tremendous potential.

Bradley, former director of the University of Tennessee’s Milan Experiment Station and former conservation-tillage specialist with Monsanto, joined FBS in 2007. Since then, he’s been testing Carbon Boost-S and other FBS products on a number of crops.

“We’re spending about a million dollars on research and development this year,” says Bradley, vice-president for technical sales development at FBS. “Last year, we had 60 trials, all of them randomized, replicated trials that ran from high-end, high-value crops such as fruits, nuts and vegetables all the way to corn and soybeans.”

While FBS is a relatively new company on the agricultural scene, its roots go back a number of years. Its predecessor, Floratine Products Group, Inc., a manufacturer of nutritional products for sports turfgrass, was purchased by Brian Goodwin and several partners in 2006.

“Floratine Products Group was established in Collierville, Tenn., in 1991, about the same time that Pix came on the market,” says Goodwin. “The three individuals who founded the company were very knowledgeable about nutritional products, and they selected golf courses as their target industry.”

Over the years, FPG came to specialize in stress management tools for golf courses, developing more than 50 products that helped greens and fairways look lush and inviting without requiring constant maintenance. In 2003, FPG also began working on products for specialty crops in California.

“When we bought FPG, we had no intention of breaking it up or spinning anything off,” said Goodwin. “Then, a year and a half into our pilot program in agriculture in California, we found ourselves in a perfect storm that brought us to this fork in the road.”

That “perfect storm” was the sharp rise in crop prices that made the idea of spending money on innovations such as FBS’ CarbonPower technology more attractive to growers. So Goodwin and his partners launched FBS as a separate company.

CarbonPower utilizes natural carbon sources to improve the uptake, translocation and bioavailability of nutrient packages to create stronger, healthier plants. These naturally occurring compounds help stabilize fertilizer elements to avoid tie-ups and barriers in the soil and mobilize those elements within plants.

“We actually began working with CarbonPower in the phosphorus and potassium market in golf,” says Goodwin, “And we built a line of products using that technology. Now we’re working to do the same thing in agriculture.” (Those products are now used on more than 6,000 golf courses and professionally managed sports facilities in 41 countries.)

FBS is testing its CarbonPower products on a number of crops, but much of its focus in 2009 will be centered in the Midwest on four crops — corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat. It expects to expand its marketing into the Mid-South and Texas in 2010.

One product, Carbon Boost-S, was applied on corn in 30 locations, including 20 randomized, replicated field trials conducted by independent, third-party researchers and 10 field demonstrations in 2007 and 2008. Despite the variety of locations (from Mississippi to Ontario, Can.), corn yields increased in 26 out of the 30 trials. The average increase was 10.2 bushels.

“We didn’t win every test, but we had consistent results across the test locations and with other crops,” said Bradley. “We were able to provide a positive return on investment in 86.7 percent of those trials, improving corn yields from four to 35 bushels per acre.”

In a trial in DeSoto County, Miss., the Carbon Boost-S plots yielded an average of 197 bushels per acre or 8.6 bushels more corn than the untreated plots that produced 188.4 bushels per acre. At a price of $4.85 per bushel, the Carbon Boost-S treatments increased revenue by $41.71 per acre or $33.71 per acre after subtracting the cost of the Carbon Boost-S.

Carbon Boost-S also performed better than competing additives in a trial conducted by University of Tennessee Extension Leader Greg Allen in Lake County. Carbon Boost-S produced an average of 249.5 bushels per acre compared to 243 bushels for the untreated check and 241.9, 244.2 and 242.4 bushels for three competing products.

“We’re seeing more movement of N, P and K into the grain,” says Bradley. “In our alfalfa plots, we’re also observing significantly higher protein levels and higher levels of calcium and zinc in our trials with fruits and vegetables.”

All told, the CarbonPower products increased yields in fruits and vegetables by an average of 15.6 percent in 2008. The increases ranged from a low of 8.5 percent for transplant tomatoes to 27.1 percent for a trial with peaches in Ridge Spring, S.C.

In most cases, Carbon Boost-S is applied at 6 ounces per acre with or near the time of fertilizer applications. In a test in Georgia in 2008, the control and the CarbonPower-treated plots received the recommended rate of 10-20-10 fertilizer at planting and 32-0-0 at layby. The CarbonPower plot received 6 ounces of Carbon Boost-S at planting and 6 ounces of the product at layby.

The control plots produced an average of 199 bushels per acre while the Carbon Boost-S-treated plot harvested an average of 206.5 bushels per acre. Both applications of Carbon Boost-S cost $8.16 per acre, giving the farmer an increase in revenue of $33.19 with $5.62-per-bushel corn.

“We hear a lot about a new yield goal of 300 bushels per acre for corn,” says Bradley. “We think these products can play a role in helping growers reach that goal.”

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