Southern soil product finding home among northern soybean growers
What do Florida oranges have to do with Minnesota soybeans? Surprisingly quite a bit, when farmers start focusing on enhancing their soil. George Sims, owner of CarbonWorks, a company that specializes in a unique agronomy approach, is taking farmers back to the basics of soil biology. A lifelong orange grower operating two of the largest citrus groves in Florida, Sims implemented the traditional fertilizer program many growers depended on.
“We did the traditional Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (NPK) in our groves. We applied 500 pounds per acre four times a year, and it wasn’t working,” Sims says. “We weren’t adding any carbon. The carbon molecule is very unique. It has the ability to attach two different valences. We created the Restore product, which brings energy and oxygen to the soil utilizing carbon.” CarbonWorks found its way to Minnesota through Nate Firle, owner of AgRevial, an agronomy company that focuses on replicated research and product testing. “Minnesota really found me. Nate was actually visiting Florida, hunting alligators in orange groves believe it or not,” Sims says, laughing. “I put a container in the back of my truck and drove to Minnesota. Nate was curious, tried my product and we got a yield increase.” The results stood out to Firle.
“We applied the product on 40 acres and found Restore very unique. Restore had zero NPK analysis,” he says. “I had never heard that before. All of the other starters that are promoted have some sort of analysis to it of NPK or micronutrients.”
The Restore product is applied in-furrow during planting. Since 2010, farmers across Minnesota have been applying it to not only soybeans, but corn and sugar beets as well.
“Our growers who are using Restore on their acres are seeing better germination rate, better population and faster emergence. We have a better root systems, plants take up more nutrients and water and convert that into oxygen and energy,” Sims says. “We know farmers don’t traditionally use starters with soybeans, but why would we want to settle for 90 percent germ rate if we could get 98 percent? Growers were actually experiencing 98-99 percent germination rate with Restore.” Firle took a bottom-line approach.
“The consistent stand and seed coming out of the ground like corn does with a starter fertilizer really intrigued me,” Firle says. “But the consistent return on investment that I gained was very attractive.” Sims notes that balance in nutrients and enhancing biological activity in the soil are two key factors in the success of the product.
“Your NPK typically comprises less than 10 percent off a plant, and we’ve overlooked the basics of agronomy – that plants need energy and oxygen. Every nutrient is necessary, but it has to be in the right balance,” Sims says. “Simulating the biological activity in the soil to produce oxygen is important for germination.”
CarbonWorks has more than seven years of independent agronomist data, along with research as part of the Beck’s Hybrids Practical Farm Research program.
“All of our replicated trials in Minnesota have had an average increase of five bushel per acre as well as an average $20 per-acre positive return on investment to the grower,” Sims says. “We need more than just breaking even with today’s economic climate.” Firle takes a long-term approach.
“If we see a consistent return on investment year one, we bring it to a second year of replication, and if we see consistency from year one and year two, we bring the trial to a third year. At that point, we work with over 30 growers across the state of Minnesota. These growers have been using Restore on different soils, different geographic regions, and the real life of how is it going to look when it is applied on a farm,” Firle says.
Although Restore is traditionally used as a soybean starter, Firle is starting to research the product beyond seed germination.
“My future research with Restore is moving to Iron Deficiency Chlorosis and how Restore is helping lower the pH of the soil. We are focusing on how we can target different rates to fix the soil,” Firle says. “George is innovative, and he wants to explore and solve the soil problems growers have.” Sims agrees.
“Soil is our lifeblood, and we need to protect it,” he says. “We may have to look at things a little differently than we have for the last 70 years. We know Minnesota is blessed with a lot of organic matter and fertile soils, but we can’t take that for granted for forever.”