Fertilizer Innovation Uses Organic Waste to Feed Crops and Improve Soil, Water, and Air

By Kurt Lawton

Photo credit: Joe Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association

Creating precision fertilizer granules from animal manure, agricultural crop wastes like peanut and rice hulls, and even wastewater treatment organics, is a first-of-its-kind innovation ready to feed crops sustainably.

The Florida-based ag-tech company, Anuvia Plant Nutrients, created a unique fertilizer product called SymTRX, produced in a zero-waste manufacturing facility.

“The Anuvia founders had a vision to develop a value-added crop nutrition technology that utilizes waste organic materials coming from a variety of sources from the food and agriculture sectors” says Shawn Semones, Vice President of Research and Development for the company.

The patented process creates a uniform enhanced efficiency biobased granular fertilizer with 15-16% organic content. Anuvia currently produces two products with different nutrient compositions, 17-1-0-20S (17% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus as P2O5, 0% potassium as K2O, and 20% sulfur) and 14-24-0-10S. “These products provide an added value sustainable solution to a grower that results in increased yields, improved soil health and a smaller environment footprint compared to conventional nutrient products,” he says.

“Its organic content adds carbon (organic matter) to improve soil health. The slow-release nitrogen feeds the crop over time while reducing leaching and volatilization by 50% compared to urea to improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG),” says Semones.

The technology fits all crops with good utility in broad acre crops like rice, cotton, corn, soybean, canola, wheat, and sugar beets.

A Circular Economy

Along with adding carbon and reducing CO2, Semones emphasizes the importance of Anuvia’s circular economy approach. “We want to repurpose and reuse different organic waste materials. We bring organic materials into the front end of our manufacturing facility, utilize any wastewater with zero emissions during the process, return a clean efficient organic source back back into the land —we are zero waste,” he says.

According to Semones, when the saved CO2 emissions from one million acres where SymTRX is applied are added up, it’s the equivalent of removing 30,000 vehicles from the road.

Product growth pushed Anuvia to seek out needed manufacturing space, which led to leasing an idled Mosaic phosphate facility.

“After this initial partnership, we saw an opportunity with Anuvia and their innovative technology as a fit with our performance product portfolio,” says Adam Herges, sustainability agronomist for Mosaic. “Wehave a commercial agreement with exclusive rights to market Anuvia’s 10S phosphate product under Mosaic’s Susterra brand in the U.S.”

“This type of fertilizer innovation can improve crop health, soil health, and water quality a great fit for Iowa farmers to help meet Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy while improving profitability,” says Sean McMahon, Executive Director of Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA). “We appreciate Mosaic, Anuvia, and the rest of our IAWA Business Council members who help drive innovations to improve water quality as well as farmers’ ROI.” Herges also serves as Vice-Chair on IAWA’s Business Council.

Value-added crop fertility with environmental benefits

Mosaic will market Susterra fertilizer with its MicroEssentials products in a 50-50 blend to promote long-term soil health and to deliver more benefits than MAP or DAP products.

“This partnership with Anuvia helps advance the sustainability strategy of both companies, as well as farmers,” Herges says. “On the water quality side, there’s improved nutrient efficiency due to slow-release nitrogen, with 70% being plant available and the remaining 30% providing availability over the growing season.”

Early research by Anuvia shows a reduction of nitrate leaching by up to 50%, compared to urea and 39% compared AMS. “These reductions along with adopting 4R practices like split applications of nitrogen and moving application timing closer to a growing crop, will further improve nutrient utilization” Herges adds. Research also shows an increase in microbial activity through microbial respiration with SymTRX and Susterra compared to traditional fertilizer blends.

Climate benefits with reduced greenhouse gases

Anuvia’s Semones cited an independent research study by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) in 2019 that showed the company’s plant-based technology reduces GHG by up to 32% per acre, compared to conventional fertilizers. If applied to all 90 million acres of corn in the U.S., the GHG reduction would translate to the removal of 1.8 million cars.

This research has intrigued the investment community and numerous large companies interested in a focus on sustainability. Semones summarizes, “We are focusing on things like actual differences in air and water quality, as well as soil carbon benefits. These are qualities that today’s consumer can relate to, which is driving interest among large company buyers of ag products.”