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    Protect Crops from Heat and Drought with Microbes

    May 1, 2024

    If you've noticed that growing seasons are feeling hotter lately, you're not alone. Last July set a new record for the hottest month on Earth, and that scorching heat has persisted into the 2024 growing season. If you're farming in Iowa, Texas, or Minnesota, you're facing some level of drought as you start planting. Even mild heat and drought stress can harm crop yield significantly; studies show that higher temperatures and drought can cut yields up to 50%. What’s more, 80-90% of U.S. farmers will experience a heat or drought situation in the next season.*

    If you're growing major row crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, or cotton, what steps can you take to shield them from the drought and heat they're encountering now? And the heat that they’re likely to encounter throughout the season? Consider microbial seed treatments—especially those derived from plants that have survived nature’s toughest conditions. Indigo Ag’s biological solutions portfolio offers biotrinsic® abiotic products, proven in over 2000+ field trials to support crops in stressful growing conditions. 

    Let’s delve deeper into the science of how these products work. To do so, we spoke with tenured agronomist Matthew Powe, who has nearly 30 years of crop consulting experience. Over the past five years, Matthew has been assisting farmers in Kansas and Missouri, helping them bolster their crops against external stresses by using the power of the plant’s natural microbiome.

    • Q: Where do you start when helping farmers prepare for heat and drought?
      It’s really about making sure plants can absorb and retain water more effectively in their tissues, along with micro- and macro-nutrients such as potassium, nitrogen, and magnesium. This means I’m looking for ways to help bolster early root development in plants. If you can get them to start strong, it’s easier to help them stay strong and yield strong.
    • Q: What products do you use to prepare for these conditions? 
      Biological seed treatments are an excellent way to improve root development and overall nutrient uptake. For example, with the Indigo biotrinsic® W12 seed treatment, we’ve seen a 12% increase in root shoot volume under drought conditions and an average yield uplift of 4.5 bushels per acre in corn experiencing drought stress during flowering and grain fill. A big benefit of this product is that it's compatible with pretty much all the commercial seed treatments out there. And it’s very easy to apply—it’s a flowable powder. 
    • Q: Have these treatments been tested in real-world conditions?
      Yes. When evaluating products, growers trust the results they see with their own eyes. They remain skeptical until they see those products succeed in the climate and conditions of their region. Indigo made it a point to test their biological products commercially in many areas—from the Delta, up to the Great Plains, and throughout the Northern Corn Belt—to make sure their formulations work across the U.S. Since 2017, their products have been in over 2,000 field trials, run by both Indigo and third-parties, including university partners.
    • Q: What kind of results have we seen from these trials?
      Let me share a couple of examples to illustrate what we typically observe with this product in the field. A few years back, we conducted a trial in North Central Iowa. In these three photos, notice how the treated plants on the right side have significantly better root development and above-ground growth compared to the untreated ones on the left. The difference between treated and untreated plants is clearly visible.

      Now, onto a trial from last year, conducted by my colleague PR Morris, who works as an agronomist in the southern United States. This one's quite remarkable. The field hadn't seen corn for 12 years, and had been growing mostly continual soybeans during that time. While we don't know exact details about that field’s soil health or fertility, it's safe to assume they weren't optimal with that crop rotation (or lack thereof). PR started planting on the right side of the field, incorporating the W12 product in the planter box. Look at this drone photo – the growth difference is astounding! It almost seems like there's a gap in planting dates due to how dramatic the contrast is. This is the kind of impact we see often, especially in situations with subpar fertility or soil health. And check out the yield map on the right—there's nearly a 30-bushel gap between treated and untreated areas. You don’t need me to tell you that that’s a significant difference.
    • Q: What makes Indigo’s biological products unique for beating the heat? 
      Indigo has a collection of over 30,000 naturally occurring microbial strains that have been extracted from plants thriving in stressful conditions. By isolating microbes that are abundant in plants that are thriving under specific stress conditions, it allows for the development of products most effective according to crop type and specific stress conditions—such as heat, drought, pest, or excess moisture. 
    • Q: How does Indigo identify and select these microbes?
      Indigo’s microbes are sourced from nature. First, Indigo looks for plants that are handling highly stressful conditions—such as intense heat and drought—better than the other plants around them. Then, thousands of these unique plants are taken from different areas, different crops, and different stress conditions and are put through comprehensive biological tests to find the specific microbes on or in these plants that help them survive. Indigo takes these microbes and tests them in both lab and greenhouse trials to understand more about how they work, and what kind of benefits growers can expect to see from applying them. Then, those microbes that make it through rigorous testing are promoted to real-world field trials. Finally, Indigo makes a product for growers based on the best-performing microbial strains, allowing growers to take advantage of this enhanced natural protection for their own crops. 

    Soil holds within it a busy ecosystem. But, some common farming methods and unpredictable weather, like tillage and drought, can upset the balance. This inadvertently diminishes the microbial diversity within the soil, which can have detrimental effects on crop health and productivity. 

    Fortunately, microbial products present a promising solution to this challenge. Seeds face great susceptibility to environmental stressors during germination and can greatly benefit from the boost biological seed treatments provide. With Indigo's unique, nature-derived seed treatments, we can give seeds the boost they need to start stronger and develop better root systems, making them stronger and better able to handle the tough conditions they’ll likely face down the road. 

    Interested in learning more? Find a biotrinsic® retailer in your area.

    * Source: NOAA, USDA, and Indigo R&D analytic
    Indigo does not guarantee any specific outcomes. A wide range of variables affect product performance, your results may vary. Additional terms, conditions and limitations may apply. Product may not be available in all areas.