Personal Growth

Russia is a major fertilizer supplier. Here’s how farmers can use less

Russia’s largest exports are oil and fuel. But the nation can also be the biggest world exporter of fertilizer; and because the world continues to react to the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, fertilizer costs for farmers have spiked and will even result in a rise in meals prices. Yet, in the identical approach this tragic warfare may transfer the world quicker towards renewable vitality, may it additionally nudge farmers to seek out methods to make use of much less fertilizer?

Fertilizer causes severe environmental issues; it’s a main supply of greenhouse fuel emissions, makes soil much less wholesome, and pollutes waterways when it runs off fields. (In Florida proper now, state officers are attempting to save ravenous manatees who misplaced their meals supply as a result of additional fertilizer from farms upstream made the water fill with algae.) A handful of startups are engaged on options that may assist scale back the quantity of fertilizer that farmers want.

Filling sacks of Apaviva NPK phosphate fertilizer at a Russian plant. [Photo: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

The present disaster in Ukraine “exacerbates a problem that predated the invasion,” says Karsten Temme, CEO of Pivot Bio, a startup that makes use of microbes to tug nitrogen from the air in farm fields. “Because of all the supply chain shocks we’ve seen over the last couple of years, commodity prices have just been wildly volatile.” As sanctions on Russia develop extra extreme, and Russia additionally threatens to cease exporting fertilizer, costs have gone up extra. Here are a number of startups that would assist scale back farmers’ dependence on typical fertilizer.

Pivot Bio

Nitrogen fertilizer is usually created from pure fuel at giant factories. Pivot Bio makes use of microorganisms that may be added to the soil for particular crops, like corn, after which produce nitrogen on demand—as a lot as 40 kilos per acre, or sufficient to offset a significant portion of conventional fertilizer use. As the product develops, the corporate desires it to finally be a sole supply of vitamins. The startup says that it’ll triple the variety of acres utilizing the product this 12 months.

[Photo: Pivot Bio]

“I think that that’s a sign of just how scalable the technology is,” says Temme. “Building a new Haber-Bosch facility can take years, if not decades, and it requires hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars of capital expenditures to build that kind of facility. For us, the equivalent is think about a microbrewery or a winery—a facility that would make yeast. It’s really replacing a railcar full of nitrogen fertilizer products with the equivalent of a handful of baker’s yeast.”

Indigo Ag

Indigo Ag, one other startup, makes microbial merchandise that may assist crops use fertilizer extra effectively. The firm additionally helps farmers receives a commission for adopting practices that may enhance soil well being, like planting cowl crops, which might additionally scale back fertilizer use. Because these “regenerative” farming strategies also can seize additional carbon within the soil, farmers can earn carbon credit for adopting them.


A startup referred to as Augmenta makes a tractor attachment that makes use of cameras and AI to research crops and soil, after which can apply the exact quantity of fertilizer to the fitting areas because the tractor goes over a subject. Because the fertilizer is simply utilized the place it’s wanted relatively than sprayed over the entire subject, much less is used, however the yield of the crop is maximized.

[Photo: Augmenta]

Other corporations have options in progress that haven’t but come to the market, together with Joyn Bio, which is at present testing microbes that may assist crops like wheat and corn “fix” nitrogen from the air, just like Pivot Bio. Kula Bio, one other startup, is testing micro organism that may additionally produce fertilizer within the subject, decreasing the usage of artificial fertilizer by as a lot as 80%. Though the trade is in its early phases now, it may sometime fully change typical fertilizer manufacturing. “Farmers will do it if it works, and if it’s cost competitive,” Kula Bio CEO Bill Brady instructed Fast Company in a latest interview.

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