KARSTEN TEMME, PhD, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Pivot Bio, talks about how the crop microbiome is the future of fertilizer and will lower the financial risk for the farmer, improve yield stability, and reduce the global impact of fertilizer pollution.

Fueled by an innovative drive and a belief that the crop microbiome could shift the current course of humanity and the planet; Pivot Bio is enabling microbes to fix and supply more nitrogen to corn. Using its ON Technology™ to awaken the crop microbiome’s natural ability to produce nutrients, Pivot Bio is on track to replace all fertilizer with a renewable, clean solution. Operating since 2011, Pivot Bio is improving crop nutrition and forging a path to better yields, healthier soils, and a cleaner future.
You say the crop microbiome is the future of fertilizer. How is that so?
First, it’s important to understand the important role fertilizer plays in our food supply. Without it, the world’s food production would be cut by 48%. And with fertilizer in its current form, we continue to learn the full extent of its use which causes concern for our planet.  A small portion of chemical fertilizer decomposes into nitrous oxide and becomes a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2. It’s responsible for about 5% of global warming. In addition, rains wash excess fertilizer into streams and rivers, causing algal blooms that suffocate fish and aquatic life. Worldwide fertilizer-linked pollution is responsible for more than 500 dead zones: places so toxic that nothing lives. One of the largest is where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the size of New Jersey. At Pivot Bio, we have found a solution to a cleaner way to feed our crops.
How are consumer demands for more environmentally sustainable farming practices impacting the industry, including growers?
Farmers are consumers as well as stewards of the land. They want to improve their land to increase their livelihood as well as leave a lasting legacy for future generations. Both consumers and farmers want to see land management practices that not only improve the way food is produced but also decreases the footprint it leaves on the land. I believe the pace at which we see new discoveries to increasing our food supply and reducing the impact on our planet will increase at a rate faster than ever before. Science is advancing quickly. We simply know more about crops and soil than ever before.  At Pivot Bio, we have created a better, cleaner fertilizer that has the potential to eliminate the conventional practice of applying nitrogen to soil. Unlike chemical fertilizer mixed into the soil, these nutrients are transferred directly to the plant. They don’t degrade which means virtually no pollution from volatilization and leaching. Having consistent nitrogen available during a plants critical growing periods will result in more predictable yield, less nitrogen run off and ultimately an abundant food supply.
How does the science work?
We leverage our deep understanding of the soil microbiome combined with our proprietary ON Technology™ platform to classify which naturally-occurring microbes have the potential to increase the crop nutrient uptake. After the microbes have been identified, Pivot Bio awakens their natural ability to produce nitrogen, a function that typically has gone dormant following years of nitrogen fertilizer application. The microbes are deployed when the seed is planted and grow with the corn plant to provide maximum output when the corn plant’s nitrogen demand peaks.  Because the microbes live in symbiosis and adhere to the crop’s roots, they are not washed away by adverse environmental conditions or affected by variable topography, soil type and organic matter.
How is your approach different from other ag tech companies in the space?
We are completely focused on the farmer. Pivot Bio is on track to produce at scale the first soil microbe that improves crop nutrition. We will test our product with farmers this summer and anticipate commercialization in 2019, years ahead of our closest competitor. We’ve proven this process in the lab, greenhouse and the fields across four growing seasons. While we are initially focused on corn, we will expand to benefit other crops.
Karsten Temme, PhD, will speak about The Changing Face of Crop Protection & Demand for Bio-Based Solutions on March 21, Day Two of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco. Stay up-to-date with Pivot Bio news at www.pivotbio.com and on Twitter at @pivotbio