When Joel Mathiowetz started planting corn this spring on his farm near Morton, Minn., he added the usual starter fertilizer to boost plant growth. But then he added something new: bacteria, right there in the soil alongside the corn seeds.

Mathiowetz is one of a handful of farmers in Minnesota who are testing the approach on their corn fields. The bacteria, which have been genetically modified and developed by California-based Pivot Bio, will help the corn plants convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form the corn plants can use as fertilizer. The idea is to eventually replace synthetic nitrogen fertilizer with microbes.

They’re not commercially available in Minnesota yet, but Mathiowetz is in his second year of testing the microbes on his farm.

It’s a fairly simple process: “I push some fish food-looking material into a solution and activate the microbes prior to applying it to our field,” said Mathiowetz, who raises corn, soybeans and peas with several family members on 2,500 acres in southern Minnesota.
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