Article •  28/09/2023

A sustainable source of nitrogen

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This year’s results for a new biological product aimed at fixing nitrogen from the air for crops are very encouraging, experts at Corteva reveal.

Corteva Agriscience’s BlueN™, a foliar applied biostimulant which made its debut at Cereals this year, provides a sustainable, supplemental source of nitrogen for crops.

A novel nutrient efficiency biostimulant for use in a broad range of crops including potatoes, BlueN contains Methylobacterium symbioticum, a bacteria found in nature that captures or ‘fixes’ nitrogen from the air  and provides it in a usable form to the  plant. M. symbioticum is an endophyte bacteria, meaning it can exist inside the plant for the lifetime of the plant, providing it with a constant sustainable source of supplemental nitrogen.

BlueN provides the equivalent of around 30kg/ha of supplemental N fertiliser in a season and, depending on their crop and fertiliser strategy, farmers can use it in addition to their existing fertiliser programme or to replace N when optimising their fertiliser rates.

“BlueN enables plants to fix nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the plant in the usable ammonium form,” says John Sellars, Category Marketing Manager for Corteva’s range of biological products. “In doing so BlueN provides supplemental nitrogen to crops without the risk of leaching, increasing nitrogen use efficiency. In addition, the manufacturing of fertilisers is a hugely energy demanding process. The bacteria in BlueN fixes nitrogen from the air via an enzymatic reaction meeting changing market expectations by being able to provide a sustainable source of nitrogen.”

The science

BlueN is a biostimulant categorised as a nutrient efficiency optimiser which captures nitrogen from the air for use by the crop throughout the growing season.

BlueN enters the plant through leaf stomata  and moves throughout the plant to photosynthetic cells including the areas of new growth.

“Once the bacteria have established in-between the cells, they start the nitrogen fixing cycle, delivering ammonium to the plant,” says Iuliia Kovalova, Biologicals Field Technical Manager at Corteva. “This means that as the crop grows, the bacteria continuously provide supplemental nitrogen to the plants.”

The bacteria in BlueN also have chromophores that reflect light towards chloroplasts, intensifying photosynthesis and increasing the synthesis of nutrients for use in plant growth.

“Applying correctly and in the right conditions is key to getting successful colonisation which will result in good product performance,” adds Mrs Kovalova. “Ensure the crop is not stressed and temperatures are over 10 C (and less than 30 C). BlueN is a living organism, so it has to be used soon after the pack is opened and mixed in the sprayer tank. Speak to your agronomist or ring Corteva to discuss possible tank mixtures.”

An autumn application?

Oilseed rape farmers may want to consider an autumn application of BlueN. There are compelling reasons that support either an autumn or spring application strategy although Iuliia explains it may well come down to the geographical location of the oilseed rape and the grower’s establishment strategy.

“The potential upsides of an autumn application are that BlueN would be in the crop longer fixing nitrogen and yield potential could be better,” Iuliia says. “However, the UK can experience heavy frosts, CSFB and pigeon damage, so all the leaves containing bacteria could potentially be lost and a spring re-application required.

“While BlueN, when applied in the spring may not be in the crop for as long as in autumn, sprays will be made to a vigorously developing canopy with improving temperatures and, as a result, quicker colonisation.

“However, if you’re based in the South West where heavy frosts aren’t as commonplace and you’ve probably got a good canopy, an application in the autumn providing optimum colonisation conditions are met might be a good move.”

Trial results

As the results from Corteva’s UK trials this year begin to arrive, Iuliia reveals that initial findings are very encouraging.

“We’ve seen some great results in potatoes,” she says. ‘Sugar beet also looks strong and with wheat harvest coming to an end, anecdotal results are positive so far. Interestingly we are also receiving some initial positive indicators about BlueN use in crops such as vines and top fruits.”

Early results from a crop of Cornish Maris Peer this year show a 14% increase in yield in the potatoes treated with BlueN. There was also improved marketable fraction compared to the part of the field that did not receive BlueN, with a calculated return on investment (ROI) of just less than £1,000/ha.

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To find out more about BlueN, visit the product page here, or watch our 'Introduction to BlueN' video here.