Nitrogen: From Fertilizer or Biologicals

As prices rise, regulations tighten, and nitrogen inefficiency worsens, it is clear the way we use N fertilizer needs to change. Nitrogen-Fixing biologicals are one of the most talked about solutions to reduce reliance on synthetic N. But are growers ready to rely on this technology to reduce their nitrogen use? Our data tells us not quite yet.

In 2022, Stratus interviewed 400 farmers across 16 states with 90% of US corn acres. The survey focused on the relationship between various fertilizer variables and grower interest in adopting N-fixing biologicals.

At the beginning of the season, growers saw a lot of uncertainty surrounding fertilizer cost and availability and they were also faced with the prospect of many other supply chain challenges. This impacted the amount of fertilizer growers told us they were planning to apply.

  • 29% of growers said they planned to reduce their nitrogen fertilizer use in 2022

After being introduced to the concept of N-fixing biologicals, growers indicated they were keenly interested in the product category. The age-old snake oil stigma is no longer the status quo. Now even growers who tried a product with mediocre results are willing to try it again – they believe in the potential of the technology.

  • 75% of growers said they were interested in trying a N-fixing biological on their farm
  • 7% said they planned to apply a N-fixing biological in 2022

When presented with the opportunity to use a N-fixing biological and either keep nitrogen rates the same and increase yield or reduce nitrogen rates and maintain yield, the majority of growers chose to keep N rates the same. There is too much risk in reducing N fertilizer and hoping the product will make up the difference. But this is likely to change in the next couple of years as performance consistency improves and fertilizer regulations tighten.

  • 70% of corn acres would receive an application of a biological with 100% of planned fertilizer if corn was $7/bu

Yield had the greatest impact on the uptake of N-fixing biologicals, which is not surprising. What is surprising is the level of impact a small yield increase had on acres treated. Growers looked at the cost of the biological and the yield benefit and decided that if the commodity price was decent and the price of nitrogen fertilizer is high, why wouldn’t they try these products if they can pay for themselves?

  • Even a 5% yield increase would drive the use of N-fixing biologicals on tens of millions of acres

It’s clear this product category will continue to gain traction over the next couple of years as even more brands enter the market. The 2022 report is currently available, and planning is already underway to continue exploring this topic in 2023. The findings of this report can help biological companies demonstrate market potential, refine current marketing, and keep up with the knowledge competitors have of you and the market.

For more information about the Nitrogen Fertilizer Biologicals study, contact: