New microbe might nix need for more nitrogen

Each time an Envita-treated plant expands by growing a new cell, the microbe moves into that cell so it becomes a nitrogen fixing component of the plant. This occurs from germination all the way through to harvest.  |  Mike Raine photo

There’s a growing pool of biologicals claiming to abscond with all that free nitrogen floating around in the atmosphere. One of the latest, Envita from Azotic, recently received Canadian registration.

With 78 percent of the atmosphere comprised of nitrogen, why shouldn’t it be free for the taking. According to Azotic, Envita helps leaves convert this abundant atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia for every cell in the plant throughout the entire growing season.

This fixation continues from the time of foliar application until the crop is ready for harvest. The company says Envita is best applied as a foliar so growers aren’t as dependent on timing, making it a good option for mid-season top dressing. The spray window extends up to V6 in corn. Because this is an in-furrow biological that is not a fixed quantity of nitrogen dumped into the ground or onto the plant, it doesn’t slack off in mid-season, Envita president Nolan Berg said.

“This is a naturally occurring food-grade microbe that was first discovered in sugar cane in 1988, but it’s taken 30 years to refine and commercialize,” said Berg, adding the nitrogen-fixing trait is nothing new for soybeans, alfalfa and legumes.

“But the world’s main staple crops like barley, rice, wheat and corn have not been able to fix there their own nitrogen until now. This is a live microbe, so it’s been a challenge getting it to the point we can transport it and apply it without damaging it.”

In corn, Berg said Envita can reduce the need for synthetic nitrogen up to 27 percent without yield loss. Or it can be used in combination with a full fertilizer program. Iowa trials in 2019 showed a yield increase up to 12 bushels compared to corn without Envita. North Dakota trials showed an 11.7 bu. benefit.

“Most of the other products would be termed as bio-stimulants, and they are soil-based,” Berg said when asked how Envita compares to the plethora of other nitrogen-fixing products now on the market.

“They work in the root zone to activate the biologicals already present in the soil environment. Some claim nitrogen fixation. Some claim to enhance plant health. Some claim PGR affects.

“When you stop to think that one teaspoon of soil holds more different microbes than there are people on the planet, then you realize the diversity of microbes is basically infinite. How can you identify which soil microbes to work with?

“We don’t try to do that with Envita. Envita is just one microbe that does just one thing. It gets into the plant and forms a symbiotic relationship. It grows with the plant. It gets out of the soil zone so it gets up into every cell of the plant. As the plant grows, the microbe grows and bring the nitrogen-fixing trait to the whole plant. It fixes nitrogen right at the source of photosynthesis and stays with the plant all season long. It turns the whole plant into a nitrogen fixing machine.”

As evidence of this nitrogen fixing ability, Berg said independent research has shown that on crops such as rice, farmers can cut their rate of commercial nitrogen fertilizer in half and still maintain the same yield.

Of all the crops Azotic has worked with, it has yet to find one that Envita will not colonize. In comparison, Berg said soil-based microbes are very specific to only certain crops and soils.

He said the company didn’t start work on soybeans until recently because it didn’t see a fit. Soybean growers were doing their own thing because they had all kinds of natural rhizobia and were topping up with fertilizer.

“It turns out there is a place for Envita in nitrogen-fixing crops like soybeans. It always takes a few weeks for a soybean plant to form nodules and start fixing nitrogen from the soil. If you apply Envita with the seed, it gets into the plant right at germination and gives it an immediate boost and a significant pop-up effect. It starts fixing nitrogen right away.

“We’ve been commercial in the U.S. since 2019. What we’re seeing this year is soybean growers applying Envita because of the early nitrogen effect.”

There are two timing windows for Envita application:

  • Seed in furrow, applied at 3.2 ounces per acre.
  • Foliar application, which shows almost the same results as the in-furrow method. Berg said the company is currently working on a seed treatment application.

Trials for Canadian Food Inspection Agency registration were conducted by the independent contract research organizations in Saskatoon, Minto, Sask., and Ontario. Canadian crops include wheat, canola, corn, soybeans, sugar beets and potatoes.

Envita for foliar use will retail at an introductory $9.75 per acre. Limited quantities are available for the 2020 growing season.

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