Research with an 8-5-5 soil microbe-feeding (biotic) fertilizer shows big yield increases over the conventional competition in Iowa comparisons. Jerry Hatfield, laboratory director and supervisory plant pathologist, USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, has compared equal N rates of Perfect Blend biotic fertilizer to SuperU for 3 years.

"We've seen a 10-15-bushel per acre increase over our top-performing conventional nitrogen source," says Hatfield. "When you get an increase over SuperU, that is fairly significant."

The biotic fertilizer, which has built a following in high-value crops like potatoes in the Pacific Northwest, is designed to stimulate biological activity rather than feed the plants directly. Roughly 70% of the product is chicken litter processed into a uniformly chelated material blended with select micronutrients.

"You get an immediate microbial bloom within 72 hours of application," says Dan Hazen, president, Perfect Blend, LLC. "Bacteria are 90% protein; they live 18 to 19 days, die, decay and the cycle repeats."

That cycle intrigues Hatfield, and he thinks it may result in greater "effective" rates of N. "Anything you can do to enhance soil biological activity enhances nutrient cycling and availability to the plant, and that is reflected in the yield," he says. "The results we are seeing raise lots of interesting questions."

Jerry Conley, Cherokee, Iowa, and Howard Vlieger, Maurice, Iowa, ran Perfect Blend strip trials in poor-quality soils this past season. Conley's yield monitor showed corn yield bumps of 20 bushels per acre, while Vlieger reports yield bumps from 10 to 20 bushels per acre as his combine traveled across Perfect Blend strips on a cornfield with spots of very light soil.

The two were among a group of Iowa farmers in 2013 on-farm trials. Marv Mortenson and Bob Streit, Central Iowa Agronomy and Supply, handled distribution of the 10 rail cars of Perfect Blend the company shipped to Iowa. While yield data is still being gathered, he reports that most increases were in the 20 to 30 bushels per acre range. Streit suggests that the cost of shipping makes the premium paid for Perfect Blend over conventional N sources better than break even with current corn prices and a 20 bu. increase. An Iowa plant under discussion would alter the economics considerably.

"Local production would reduce costs by $50 per acre and provide a 2:1 or 3:1 return," says Streit.