With funding from Gates Foundation, USDA, and other investors focused on food and ag innovations, researchers Eric Davidson and Travis Bayer are developing new solutions to advance sustainable agriculture.

Their Emeryville, Calif.-company, Sound Agriculture, recently released its first product, Source, as part of their goal to bump up crop yields using microbes found in the soil.

Source, a foliar spray, creates an extra boost of crop nutrition at the root zone for crops in vegetative and reproductive stages.

“The way that the product works is by activating native microbes in the soil to provide nitrogen and phosphorus to the crop,” said Travis Bayer, Ph.D., co-founder of Sound Agriculture.

The product will be available to growers for the 2020 growing season. Their target market is farmers in the Corn Belt.

Source will be available through a network of retailers across the Midwest and can also be purchased directly from Sound Agriculture via their website, sound-ag.com.

The product costs about $11 per acre. It can be tank-mixed with herbicides or fungicides and sprayed on growing crops. Early booking incentives can help reduce the cost, and their product is shelf stable, Bayer said.

Sound Agriculture has worked with the University of Illinois and obtained three years of field trial data showing a positive return on investment for growers. In 2017 and 2018, Source increased corn yield by an average of 9.6 bushels per acre in target conditions 88 percent of the time vs. corn that didn’t receive a Source application.

The product is designed with a wide window of application in corn – from post-emergence through tassel.

Bayer said Source offers advanced technology with a well-understood mode of action validated by intellectual property and backed by rigorous research.

“We designed the active ingredient (Maltol Lactone) to move down through the plant into the root zone to influence the bacteria and the microbes in the soil,” he said. “You just mix it with your herbicide or fungicide and go get that extra yield boost.”

The active ingredient is like a cup of coffee in the morning for microbes, he said. Specific microbes are targeted and activated to create plant-available nitrogen.

The microbes are activated for about two weeks, but the abundance of bacteria really ramps up at the root zone for long-term benefit. That helps provide longer nutrient availability in the soil. Source helps beneficial microbes thrive and increase throughout the season and may help increase beneficial microbes over multiple years.

Right now, Sound Agriculture is compiling field trial data for 2019, and they plan to release that data on their website. They also plan to have some grower meetings this winter to talk about Source and how it works. They will have a booth at Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas, Feb. 26-28, and Bayer encourages everyone to stop by.

Bayer said Sound Agriculture’s discovery process relies on cutting edge life science and computational tools developed over the past five years or so.

“What we really try to do is understand the complexity of the soil and really embrace the complexity of what’s going on between a plant and soil and between the plant and the environment,” he said.

Bayer and Davidson’s team strives to produce ground-breaking tools that disrupt traditional input-intensive techniques to help growers do more with less.

“We’re trying to differentiate ourselves through very sound, very robust science – being transparent with the data and spending the time, the effort to develop a product that provides a return for the growers,” Bayer concluded.

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