Collaboration
Novozymes, Monsanto Discover Microbes That Can Boost Corn and Soybean Yields

Novozymes and Monsanto say they have discovered several microbes that are demonstrating increased yield in corn and soybeans, a result of ongoing collaborative research into microbial products farmers can use to help meet rising global demand for food stuffs.

This year, the companies’ BioAg Alliance conducted research across 170,000 field trial plots in 70 locations throughout the United States. The companies expect to more than double the number of research field plots next season.

Microbial-based solutions are derived from various microbes such as bacteria and fungi. The BioAg Alliance is researching the next generation of these solutions, and has already introduced two types of microbial products: inoculant products, which help plants take up nutrients, and biocontrol products, which in turn help protect plants against pests, disease and weeds. The products can be utilized by farmers that grow broad acre crops such as corn and soy, and on fruits and vegetables.

“Microbials have a significant potential to transform modern agriculture and help meet growing global demand for food. The goal of The BioAg Alliance is to bring cutting-edge innovation in microbials to farmers, so they can produce more crops with fewer inputs,” says Thomas Videbæk, executive vice president for business development, Novozymes.

Microbials make up about two-thirds of the agricultural biologicals industry today, and build on the successful application of microbes in everything from personal healthcare to food processing and production. Today, microbials such as Rhizobium offer farmers ways to replace or complement traditional fertilizers, while Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) sprays continue to be used in organic and conventional agriculture.

Formed in February by Novozymes and Monsanto, the BioAg Alliance brings together Novozymes’ capabilities for discovering, developing, and producing microbes and Monsanto’s discovery capabilities, field testing, and market reach.

Many are critical of Monsanto’s practices of propagating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and skeptical of its commitment to protecting the health of crops. In October, the agritech giant announced it had joined a multi-stakeholder coalition aimed at improving health in honey bee populations, despite its production of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have long been considered a culprit in the widespread decline of bee populations. And recently in Mexico, Monsanto lost its permit to plant genetically modified soybeans that resist its Roundup pesticide, after a Mexican judge ruled the crop harmed the region’s honey production.

Just what constitutes sustainable agriculture is not always agreed upon, which is why earlier this year PepsiCo, Unilever, Heineken and more than 50 other members of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform developed the world’s first industry-aligned Farmer Self-Assessment (FSA) of sustainable agriculture practices. The FSA is designed for farmers to assess their sustainable agriculture practices in a way that is universally recognized by the food and drink industry, SAI says. The industry-aligned set of assessment criteria for farmers meets the sustainable sourcing needs of many companies. Any farmer can complete the assessment online and it can be used for most crop types, farm sizes and locations around the world.

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