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Home > UnCommon Farms Blog > Farmers Are Optimizing Nutrients by Focusing on the Soil

Farmers Are Optimizing Nutrients by Focusing on the Soil

Adam Litle, CEO of Sound Agriculture, admires the proactive approach farmers take when it comes to business. They are always looking for ways to evolve their operations using the latest innovations. 

“Farmers are very entrepreneurial,” Litle says. “They’re running their own businesses, and they’re very autonomous in that way. They’re always looking for ways to improve.” 

One way that farmers are looking to upgrade their productivity is through the adoption of new technologies, especially those related to soil health, a category that has seized their attention. Litle says more than half of growers have tried such products, and 30%-40% of growers are using them on a consistent basis. 

A product of interest to many farmers that supports soil health is Sound Agriculture’s flagship product SOURCE®, a soil activator that gives crops access to a more efficient source of nitrogen and phosphorus. In fact, SOURCE provides 25 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus per acre, allowing farmers to reduce synthetic fertilizer or use SOURCE to boost yield activity. 

When SOURCE is applied as a foliar spray, it moves through the plant and out of the root system into the soil. The product mimics a natural plant-to-microbe signal that stimulates nitrogen fixing bacteria that transform atmospheric nitrogen to a plant available form, and phosphate solubilizing microbes that release phosphate bound to minerals in the soil. 

SOURCE isn’t a biological product, but rather a chemistry that improves nutrient use efficiency by stimulating more than 200 species of microbes to give crops more access to nitrogen, phosphorus, and several critical micronutrients like boron and zinc, Litle says. 

“SOURCE is like caffeine for the microbes,” he adds. 

It’s also “caffeine” the plants need because decades of synthetic fertilizer has caused soil microbes to go dormant, resulting in less nutrient optimization throughout the season, Litle notes. If microbes can’t function, they can’t improve nutrient use efficiency. 


A Sustainable Solution 

SOURCE allows farmers with a nutrient use efficiency score of 0.95 or greater to apply less synthetic fertilizer, which is significant considering fertilizer represents 20-30% or more of operating costs for many crops, Litle says. 

“We recognize that there are a lot of variables to crop production that are outside of a grower’s control,” Litle says. “Making sure a crop doesn’t come up short on fertilizer is a big concern for growers and, as a result, more fertilizer is often applied than needed as a form of security to potentially avoid yield loss.” 

But what is often less known is that when synthetic fertilizer is overapplied, much of it is lost to the environment, leading to negative impacts on air and water quality due to volatilization, leaching and run off. 

Mike Twining, Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Willard Agri-Service (based in Frederick, MD) is a major advocate of the soil health approach Sound Agriculture has taken with SOURCE. He’s impressed with the company’s “heavy commitment to research and development” and ongoing real-time data collection. 

“I’ve been excited from day one about the assurances that Sound Agriculture has put in place to encourage adoption of this technology,” Twining says. “It’s exactly the kind of leadership a company needs to take in this space.”

Twining says Willard Agri-Service, an agricultural retailer that has been in business for more than 50 years, is putting more emphasis on enabling soil to support crop nutrition. He also believes more growers are embracing such technology. 

“A higher percentage of growers than ever before are experimenting with these new inputs to benefit crop production,” Twining says, noting that SOURCE can eventually help growers achieve healthier soils and increase productivity.

Twining and Litle realize growers have been inundated with new crop technologies the past few years. Many of the growers don’t know which products to trust and are confused about their complexities because they work differently.

But Litle says he’s asking growers to be open minded to some of these new technologies, including SOURCE, because they can make a difference and provide a solid return on investment. Sound Agriculture is so confident that SOURCE can help growers that it has implemented a first-of-its-kind fertilizer replacement guarantee for corn growers that helps eliminate reliance on costly and frequently inefficient nitrogen and phosphorus applications.

When a grower uses SOURCE on qualifying corn acres and reduces nitrogen and/or phosphorus by 25 pounds per acre, the company guarantees that yield will be maintained, or the grower will be reimbursed up to $100 per acre. 


A ‘Clear Commitment’ 

Litle says Sound Agriculture’s business is growing rapidly despite the drop in fertilizer prices.

“We know how our product performs based on two variables — the amount of nitrogen applied and your target yield,” he says. “With that information, we can help guide how to use SOURCE for the best ROI.” 

Twining says growers need to partner with companies like Sound Agriculture that have made a clear commitment to “understanding new technology and developing it” versus other companies that aren’t as committed. “I’m throwing my hat in with the science-based companies like Sound Agriculture that are here for the long term,” he adds. 

Twining encourages farmers to be open to new technologies, like SOURCE, that could be game changers in how we think about managing a crop’s overall plant nutrition program. 

“I’m simply saying to utilize all the tools in your toolbox to optimize the living soil system under your crops that we’re gaining knowledge about every day. We need to embrace this technology, employ it correctly, and we’ll all win,” he adds. 

In time, Litle believes the soil health category will be adopted by most farmers. “It will take time because of the adoption curve, but it should take time because farmers need to take a measured risk,” he says.

Written by

Sound Agriculture

Sound Agriculture's mission is to develop methods and characteristics that promote sustainable, healthier, and more delicious food. They focus on finding ways to improve agricultural practices for increased efficiency and reduced environmental impact. The vision is to create a brighter future by restoring ecosystems, ensuring clean water, and ensuring an ample supply of food through innovative, nature-driven farming approaches.

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