With fertilizer prices off the charts in 2022, some farmers are considering biological products to take advantage of nutrients already in their soils. 

Strip-Till Farmer hosted a digital demonstration of Meristem Crop Performance’s Excavator and Revline Hopper Throttle products. Peter Rousonelos, vice president of business development for Meristem, says the company provides solutions to growers to fight back against this year’s high input prices. Rousonelos says biological products don’t eliminate the need for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), but they increase the efficiency of those nutrients. 

“Whether fertilizer and commodity prices are high or low, we believe it’s going to be able to positively impact your operation year over year,” Rousonelos says. 

Excavator Breaks Down Residue

Meristem’s Excavator is a combination of 6 biological products used to break down residue. It speeds up the mineralization process, resulting in greater release of N, P, K and micronutrients. 

Rousonelos says the product allows this year’s crop to access the valuable nutrients already on the field. 

Unlike other residue managers on the market, Excavator’s patent-pending delivery mechanism allows the product to be applied in both the fall and spring, rather than just fall application. Rousonelos says the biologicals are encapsulated, so they become active in the same environment in which seeds germinate. It can be applied with herbicides, N and through center pivot irrigation. 

“It can be applied in a convenient manner within your operation,” Rousonelos says. “This unique delivery system drives those biologicals into that residue, and by doing that, it goes to work right away and starts eating at the carbon source, which increases nutrient availability in season.”

If the farmer is able to apply Excavator in fall or early spring, they can save a tillage pass, Rousonelos says, the equivalent of $113 per acre. 

Chad Gripp, founder and CEO of Gripp Custom Farming near Sheffield, Ill., and his family farm more than 2,000 acres of their own and also do crop protection, crop nutrients, seed and custom farming work for other farmers. Gripp says residue is the biggest obstacle to any kind of minimal tillage. He prefers to strip-till in the fall so the fields are ready for planting in the spring. 

With strip-tilling work to be done in the fall, Gripp doesn’t have time for spraying a fall burndown. Instead, he uses Excavator to help control winter annuals, take care of residue and provide more nutrient availability for his crops. In 2021, he didn’t apply it until around Thanksgiving, but thanks to a warm stretch, he started to see Excavator at work within 10-14 days.

“We could visually tell where our test strip was,” Gripp says. “It was working even in that November-December time frame. It didn’t really change a lot throughout the winter, but now that we’ve had a few 60-70 degree days and some rain, it’s really changing quickly.”

Soil tests showed Excavator can increase organic matter as well. A soil sample pulled 60 days after fall application of Excavator from a field with a standard two-crop rotation for multiple years showed 2.7% organic matter, compared to an untreated part of the same field with 2.3%. 

“We’re hearing a lot of buzz about carbon credits,” Rousonelos says. “We’re seeing a bump in organic matter with Excavator, and I believe every 10th of a pound is a ton of carbon sequestered. The carbon market is growing, and we believe there could be some value there.”

Hopper Throttle Boosts Yields

Rousonelos and Gripp also introduced Meristem’s Hopper Throttle Corn and Hopper Throttle Soybean. Both are planter box treatments with an 80/20 talc and graphite base to provide lubricity and eliminate static electricity on planter parts. Rousonelos says Meristem was careful not to adversely affect singulation when creating Hopper Throttle, knowing how important it is to the grower. 

Hopper Throttle Corn also includes iron, manganese and two strains of azospirillum N fixers. The application rate is .64 ounces per acre, and one jug treats 50 units of corn. 

“There's atmospheric N trapped in the air within the soil, there's atmospheric nitrogen, and those azospirillum go to work to fix that atmospheric N and make that nitrogen available to that crop,” Rousonelos says. 

Hopper Throttle Soybean fixes N using Bradyrhizobium japonicum, an inoculant for the soybeans, and also has iron and manganese in it. It’s applied at 1.45 ounces per acre, and one jug treats 40 units of soybeans. Rates for both the corn and soybean products should be increased for treated seed and high humidity conditions. 

Meristem also offers Revline Hopper Throttle for corn and soybeans, an “upgrade” to the regular Hopper Throttle. It includes a “biological plant growth regulator” in the form of pink microbes from Terrasym. The microbes come as a co-pack with the graphite Hopper Throttle products. 

“It’s going to provide you with the ability to have an in-furrow root stimulant that’s going to help with earlier, bigger root development,” Rousonelos says

Hopper Throttle has a 2-year shelf life and does not need to be refrigerated. Revline Hopper Throttle should be used within 10 days once the pink microbes are mixed into the talc graphite base because the talc will take the moisture out of the microbes.

Gripp says Hopper Throttle is popular among his customers. They appreciate how easy it is to use and mix the products, compared to the mess and difficulty of products from the 1990s and early 2000s. He says Excavator and Hopper Throttle together set him up for the perfect seedbed.

“Operational excellence is necessary for products to have viability long-term,” Rousonelos says. “Product ideas have to not only be agronomically sound, but also it has to work and be easier to use. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s the next greatest thing if it doesn’t fit within your operation.”

Rousonelos says Revline Hopper Throttle provides a 6-8 bushel yield bump. At a cost of $7-8 per acre for Revline Hopper Throttle and about $4 per acre for Hopper Throttle, it can lead to significant profits for farmers. Gripp says he’s gotten a $25-30 return on investment from using the product. 

To learn more about the Hopper Throttle and Excavator products, watch a replay of Meristem’s digital demo featuring Rousonelos and Gripp