Dakota Farmer

Nitrogen innovation from a farmer’s perspective

Minnesota farmer Bob Worth sees proven benefits right in his own fields.

Sarah McNaughton, Editor, Dakota Farmer

April 29, 2024

3 Min Read
Minnesota farmer Bob Worth stands next to farm equipment.
DECADES OF DEDICATION: Minnesota farmer Bob Worth has been participating in the Pivot Bio N-OVATOR program and says the product has made a difference on his fields, especially during recent drought years. Courtesy of Bob Worth

With new products always hitting the market, where do you turn to find what really works? How about a fellow farmer? Bob Worth, who farms near Lake Benton, Minn., and serves as president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers, has dedicated five decades to his family farm.

In that time, new technologies have come and gone, but Worth says he has found something that works with the state’s conservation requirements. “What made me look for a change is when the water certification and conservation security program made us cut back on nitrogen and put it all on in the spring,” he explains. “All of a sudden you got your yields back and were still doing what is needed for conservation and water quality.”

Pivot Bio products are a biological solution for consistent nitrogen in crops ranging from corn to small grains. Biologicals harness a natural solution to deliver nitrogen to plants through genetic coding. The two products available to farmers today include ProveN 40 and Return. Another piece of the Pivot Bio puzzle is the N-OVATOR program.

Trialing on the farm

Worth is one of the farmers involved in Pivot Bio’s N-OVATOR program. “These farmers are using ProveN 40 on their acres, replacing synthetic nitrogen with a microbial source,” explains Jim Kelly, associate director of sustainability programs with Pivot Bio. “What our innovator program does is we work with the farmers, quantify that nitrogen replacement and work with downstream customers within the grain supply chain.”

There were about 1.5 million acres of farmland enrolled in this program across the U.S. in 2022 and 2023. In the 2023 N-OVATOR program, participants replaced more than 16,500 tons of synthetic fertilizer with Pivot Bio’s ProveN 40.

For farmers like Worth, this means that they can see the benefits right in their own fields. “It’s been a fantastic program for our farm. We tried it the first year by planting strips, and then we cut back on nitrogen and put Pivot on, and the yields were actually about two to three bushels better,” he says.

In 2023, Worth tried the product in a corn-on-corn trial and saw the same bushel yield as the corn-on-soybean ground with less nitrogen use.

Drought conditions have been sticking around for the past few years in the upper Midwest, and southwest Minnesota is no exception. “It’s been tough. This is our third year in drought,” Worth says. “Believe it or not, the corn was better than I thought, and I think the technology has a role in that as well.” 

Kelly says that not only can farmers increase conservation benefits, but they also can see additional revenue streams from their grain. “Think of your grain aggregators or your ingredient manufacturers or your consumer-packaged goods company,” he says. “We work with them to pass on those sustainability benefits to you, and they, in turn, incentivize the farmer to make those practice changes.”

Although the revenue benefits still are growing over time, Kelly says it’s enough to make a difference. “It still depends on the program, but it’s ranging from $5 to $12 an acre, so it’s not insignificant.” However, farmers should note that this price depends on both farm practices and program types.

To find out more about the N-OVATOR program, check out the Pivot Bio website.

About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton of Bismarck, N.D., has been editor of Dakota Farmer since 2021. Before working at Farm Progress, she was an NDSU 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D. Prior to that, she was a farm and ranch reporter at KFGO Radio in Fargo.

McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in ag communications and a master’s in Extension education and youth development.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, as a member of North Dakota Agri-Women, Agriculture Communicators Network Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

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