In 2013-14, the idea of nitrogen-fixing, non-leguminous crops hit the media big-time. UK-based Azotic Technologies was one of the companies making bold predictions, including that it expected to offer its commercial natural nitrogen-fixing technology, N-Fix, in two to three years.
It’s been five.
So, where is it?
In 2014, we spoke to David Dent, director with Azotic Technologies, at the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference to see how the bacteria (Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus or Gd) enters crop roots, and whether or not the plant’s yield suffers on account of supplying sugars to Gd. During that interview, Dent talked about the next steps, saying the company needed one more year of research trials, followed by grower trials, with commercialization expected two years after that.
In October 2014, the company published a release on its trials in amenity turf and pasture grass. According to its release, the team measured levels of chlorophyll in leaves and the amount of biomass produced after inoculation. For amenity turf, inoculated plants produced the same amount of chlorophyll, but greater biomass with less than 75 percent of the fertilizer. In pasture grass, the company saw higher levels of both.
Blezard said the results clearly indicated “the significance of the technology developed.”
“We have shown that the inoculation of Azotic’s N-Fix into plants can both improve crop performance and reduce the amount of fertilizer required, therefore suggesting that a widespread use of N-Fix could result in the global reduction in the amount of harmful fertilizer used, a natural boost to the quality of plants grown by farmers, and increased food security through increased global crop production. We look forward to further developing this technology and commercializing it for global use.”
A November 2017 release on rice trials in Vietnam was equally positive (and vague).
“A series of rice trials in Vietnam has shown very positive results,” it reads. “Seeds treated with Azotic’s natural nitrogen fixing technology resulted in significant yield increases when compared to non-treated seeds.”
According to other releases, the company has also expanded in recent years, even to include a North American agronomy team; it has won innovation awards; and, according to their site, CEO Peter Blezard received CEO of the Month by Corporate Vision in April 2017.
In a 2017 article on the company, and on Blezard’s win, he’s quoted as saying, “Our current strategy is to engage with partners who may be willing to enter into a licence agreement, for a specific territory, or product, or both, currently. I have also negotiated a market development contract with a partner in North America that will see State Registrations within USA ahead of sales coming through in 2018…”
But there’s a lot of skepticism out there, starting, obviously, with timelines. It’s three years after N-Fix, the Gd product, was anticipated to be ready for sales (and we’ve been hearing of this technology for decades). It’s also incredibly difficult to find any detailed data on the trials.
So where is it? We went straight to the source to find out. From an email correspondence with an Azotic Technologies spokesperson:
In 2013, you mentioned the first batch of field trials were being worked on in UK and Canada, focusing on grass, wheat, canola, corn and potatoes. How did those trials go?
Azotic has continued doing independent field trials in subsequent years. In 2018 the company will be carrying out further field trials in the UK, Europe, Asia and North America. Our current focus crops are now, wheat, maize, soybean and rice.
In the U.S. we have had some encouraging results with maize, wheat and soybean. On corn, we carried out in-furrow trials which performed as well as the on-seed with the in-furrow impact being largest at lower N levels. N-Fix has demonstrated similar results in wheat and soybean trials, both in Europe and the USA. In addition to saving on nitrogen fertiliser there has also been a definite impact on yield quantity and quality.
A number of rice trials were carried out in Vietnam and Thailand. The overall response was a mean average 15% yield increase across all the field trials.
Are you getting close to having the product market ready? Or is it available in some markets already?
Our first product is currently in pre-commercial trials on corn in the USA with a market launch expected during 2019. There is also a product development programme delivering enhanced commercial efficacy on wheat, soybean and rice.
Have you had ongoing support or interest from some companies in offering N-Fix?
We have had a lot of interest in our N-Fix technology from a wide variety of companies and a lot of growers. Azotic has conducted grower surveys and there is significant latent demand for N-Fix.
Are you still seeing about 60% of the nitrogen needs of the plant fulfilled when using N-Fix?
This varies in accordance with the level of nitrogen fertilizer applied.
Where in Canada has it been trialled?
We carried out 4 trials in total all in Ontario – two on corn, one on soybean, and one on potato.
Both corn trials showed significant yield increases with N-Fix in-furrow and on-seed compared to the control. The soybean and potato trials also showed improved yield.
What are the next steps?
Continue with product development, independent field trials, pre-commercial development and commercial licensing of N-Fix.