Agriculture is a significant contributor to global emissions, with roughly five percent of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributed to the synthetic fertilizer supply chain alone. About two-thirds of those emissions occur post-application in croplands in the form of nitrate leaching, agricultural runoff, and other natural processes during a plant’s growth cycle. Not only does this hurt soil health and water quality, but it also reduces the nitrogen intake of plants. Nearly half of applied nitrogen is wasted, which reduces the efficiency of agriculture and adds undue costs to farmers. This is where Pivot Bio comes in.
Pivot Bio, a California-based startup is advancing sustainable agriculture by helping farmers cut down on their nitrogen waste. The company has developed nutrient-producing microbes that can increase the nitrogen uptake of crops by binding to a plant’s root. These nitrogen-fixing biologicals naturally convert atmospheric nitrogen into a readily available form for plants—effectively supplanting or altogether eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers. The company’s flagship product is an on-seed treatment called Proven 40, which enables corn farmers to cultivate their seeds with up to 25% of the crop’s nitrogen needs pre-loaded.
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Keith O’Bryan, director of product development and seed treatments at Pivot Bio, explains that “Because the nitrogen is on the seed, it is available throughout the season when the plant needs it the most…It’s a consistent form of nitrogen, which is its biggest selling point,” he says, adding that the biological is active for up to 60 days post-treatment.
When applied to corn, Pivot Bio’s microbial nitrogen reduces the process of nitrate leaching by an average of nine pounds per acre. According to independent research findings, the use of Proven 40 was also associated with higher yields and around $12.50 per acre in additional revenue. Apart from Proven 40, the company’s other innovative sustainable nitrogen solutions include Return, an on-seed nitrogen application for wheat, sorghum, and small grains. Other nitrogen-supporting fertilizers are in the works.
“For the first time at scale – farmers have a tool they can use to confidently grow the food the world needs while avoiding the nitrogen pollution that is leading to large-scale environmental harm,” Karsten Temme, CEO and co-founder of Pivot Bio, said in a press release. “Our pitch to growers is, instead of spending a dollar on nitrogen fertilizer, spend a dollar on Pivot’s nitrogen.”
Pivot Bio’s cutting-edge crop technology not only enhances farmers’ productivity and profitability but also helps farmers reduce the nitrous oxide (N20) emissions associated with the fertilizer industry (N20 is a critical driver of climate change with up to 300 times the global warming potential of CO2). That’s because the company’s biological seed coating uses 1,000 times less water and is manufactured with a carbon footprint that’s just 2% that of traditional fossil fuel-based fertilizers. In 2022 alone, the Breakthrough Energy-backed company helped its customers substitute more than 32,000 tons of synthetic fertilizer––the CO2 equivalent of powering some 44,000 U.S. homes for one year.
With a valuation of $2 billion and counting, the company is well poised to upend the $193+ billion fertilizer market and transform the future of farming. And, with one study published in the journal Nature Food finding that global nitrogen-use efficiency stands at a dismal 46%, Pivot Bio’s proven solutions are ready to improve nitrogen efficiency, increase crop yields, and lower agricultural emissions globally.
Nathalie Voit is a freelance content creator and a graduate of the University of Florida. She is an alumni of The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.