The first year of using Midwestern BioAg (MBA) fertilizers led to a 15 percent yield increase in soybeans, while oats grown on soils that had used MBA fertility for multiple years saw significant gains in nutritional values, according to two studies done in concert with a large food company (LFC). In both cases, the BioAg fertility program outperformed industry-standard recommendations.
The soybean results come from the first year of a six-year study designed to analyze how Midwestern BioAg fertilizers and practices affect soil biology, crop yields and economics. Using the food company’s research plots, it will test a rotation of soybeans, oats and corn, with cover crops grown between the cash crops. The first year of the study included three treatments on soybeans in Minnesota — one control plot managed according to the LFC standard practices, and two plots managed according to the BioAg fertility program.
Plots treated with the BioAg fertility program showed both early season advantages and harvest-time gains. Color differences among the plots can be seen in the aerial photo in Figure 1. Harvest data on plant height and pod count are shown in Table 1.
The soybean finding is particularly important in challenging economic times. Results suggest that farmers switching to the BioAg program this year could see immediate returns on their investment.
“These initial soybean results are significant,” said Midwestern BioAg scientist Dr. Maggie Phillips. “A lot of people understand the value of healthy soils and this should add to their level of confidence that our approach works. This study illustrates what a lot of our growers have seen — that there can be a sizable first-year boost.”
“We anticipate these results compounding in coming seasons. We’re excited to see what’s next.”
“This reinforces what we’ve seen over the years,” said longtime BioAg consultant Ron Gifford. “At Midwestern BioAg, we see the soil as a major farm asset. Our products are designed to support crop performance this season, while building soil health for future seasons. This study demonstrates that farmers no longer have to choose between short-term profits and long-term improvement.”
Better Oats, Less Nitrogen
The oats study, done in collaboration with the same large food company, involved existing BioAg customers who established and harvested more than 2,000 acres of oats.
“We found that oats grown on the BioAg program required substantially less purchased nitrogen,” noted Phillips. “Test plots averaged 0.44 units of purchased nitrogen per bushel, about 50 percent less than what is typically applied. This is noteworthy, especially as large food companies seek to lower the carbon footprint of their supply chains.”
Reducing nitrogen use can lower the greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions associated with its production (making nitrogen is an energy-intense process). It can also reduce the likelihood of nitrous oxides escaping into the atmosphere and nitrates leaching into the water. The study also revealed additional findings about nutritional values.
“Grain analysis showed that oats grown on the BioAg program contained nearly 59 percent more beta-glucans, or soluble fiber,” said Phillips. Beta-glucans have been shown to help lower cholesterol, allowing food companies to make “heart-healthy” claims. Protein levels in the grains also shot up close to 50 percent.
Consultant Ron Gifford said he wasn’t surprised by the nutritional gains. “The increase in nutritional values for oats looks a lot like the nutritional gains we see in forage,” said Gifford. “The same principles apply. If the nutrients are available in the soil, they’ll end up in the plant and ultimately in the food and forage.”
The two studies will continue into 2016, with the oats acreage expected to increase to more than 5,000 acres.
Current research efforts include long-term collaborations with major universities, including the Universities of Wisconsin, Illinois and Arizona. All trials are designed to evaluate products, and to assess the overall impact of Midwestern BioAg’s systems-based approach to farming.
Large food company studies will continue in 2016. In addition to this work, the BioAg research team will continue assessing current and potential products. This includes exploration of new liquid fertilizers to expand and complement current offerings, new seed genetics, as well as product analysis and comparison.
About Our Team
Midwestern BioAg’s research team is led by Dr. Steven Slater. Steve has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics, 10 years of experience in academia and 10 years of agriculture research experience.
Working with Steve are scientists Bill Petersen and Dr. Maggie Phillips. Bill, our lead researcher, holds a B.S. in Agronomy from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and has more than 30 years of experience in agronomy, plant biology and plant pathology.
Maggie is our project manager and our research chemist. She holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a certified project management professional.