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Monsanto, Biotech Developing Soil Nutrient Microbe

Actinomycete bacteria

Actinomycetes, bacteria found in the soil (USDA.gov)

6 January 2016. A partnership between Monsanto and the biotechnology company Novozymes developed a new soil microbe product, which the companies say in field tests substantially increases corn yields. The collaboration known as BioAg Alliance plans to introduce the corn inoculant product in the U.S. next year.

Novozymes, an agricultural biotechnology company in Copenhangen, Denmark, and Monsanto, in St. Louis, formed BioAg Alliance in 2014 to offer more sustainable solutions for growers, particularly through soil microbes. Microbes in the soil are part of a complex ecosystem made up of microscopic bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes (worms), as well as more visible earthworms and insects that affect plant growth and health.

Products developed through the partnership, say the companies, are derived from naturally-occurring bacteria and fungi, then enhanced to replace or complement traditional fertilizers. The companies estimate microbials comprise about two-thirds of the market for agricultural biological products valued at $2.6 billion.

BioAg plans to offer two types of products, inoculants that improve nutrient uptake and biocontrol products to protect against diseases and pests. Both types of products are designed to be applied to seeds before planting, particularly for corn and soy, and on fruits and vegetables.

The new BioAg product is an inoculant for corn based on a fungus found in the soil, which Monsanto and Novozymes say is enhanced to enable the fungi to be applied as a coating on corn seeds without affecting longevity or performance of the fungi. Field trials of the inoculant that tested the product under realistic conditions in the U.S., say the companies, show it can increase corn yields by an average of 4 bushels per acre.

“The world needs to produce more crops from our arable land while using fewer resources,” says Thomas Schäfer, vice president of BioAg research at Novozymes in a joint statement. “The more we learn about microbes and their symbiotic relationships with plants, the more we realize how key they are to this challenge.”

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