Removing the Risk of Fertilizer Reduction

As part of our mission to support growers in creating more sustainable and lucrative operations, Sound has introduced a pilot program aimed at helping growers reduce their nitrogen application across 25,000 acres throughout the US without any of the associated risk. 

Fifty growers will devote up to 500 acres in the brand-new nitrogen reduction program, each working with a Sound agronomist to develop a plan to reduce between 25 and 50 pounds of applied nitrogen per acre using SOURCE, Sound’s microbiome activator, while Sound underwrites the risk of any lost yield. 

A lot of growers know that in theory, they could cut nitrogen, at least moderately. But it’s like an insurance policy — it’s the tried and true thing that they’re not willing to roll the dice on,” says Adam Litle, CEO of Sound Agriculture. No one has ever fully underwritten the risk of nitrogen reduction because they don’t want to risk cutting a check for $100 or $150 an acre. On your average farm, that can easily add up to millions of dollars paid out to growers.” 

So what makes Sound different? The data. As a science-backed, data-driven company, Sound has been conducting research, field trials, and compiling data shared by growers for years. All of this flows into the Performance Optimizer, a precision application tool designed to help growers identify how SOURCE is likely to perform in their fields based soil characteristics and other data points. When the model first rolled, growers could input only their fields’ pH, CEC, and OM, but a significant increase in data last year allowed Sound to expand the inputs to include yield targets and nitrogen application, which was key to implementing the nitrogen reduction pilot program.

Our data-driven operation, using an algorithm in the background, gives us the confidence and accuracy to do this kind of targeted, precision project,” says Adam. Over the course of the last few years, we’ve gotten a lot of data, especially on SOURCE Corn, and we have a lot of confidence that we can maintain that yield even while cutting nitrogen by 25 to 50 pounds.”

For Sound the program carries relatively little financial risk, and there are significant benefits to be had as well. Data from the 50 growers across the US who enroll in the pilot program this year will be fed back into Sound’s modeling, helping to further refine the Performance Optimizer.

Starting this year, we’re hoping to get a lot of data to continue to support our precision-application, see if there are differences across regions and then scale the program another factor of ten next year,” says Adam. In 2023, Sound is aiming to enroll 250,000 acres in the N‑reduction program, and the data gathered in this year’s smaller pilot program will be key to supporting that expansion.

One thing that’s really important is that we can get data from different states,” says Adam. Agronomy is pretty local, but with the scope of this program, we’ll really be able to learn what it’s like in the Southern Corn Belt versus the north, east and west, as well as places as far east as the Delmarva Peninsula and as far west as Colorado and the Dakotas.”

Adam says the program is a rare win-win-win. Fundamentally, it supports our sustainability mission as a company,” he explains, but it also is the right thing to do with regards to our product technology and for our customers.”

Sound is committed to sustainability and helping growers improve their farms’ resilience and ROI, and for Adam, it’s vital that those goals go hand in hand. One of the company’s goals is to reduce global nitrogen fertilizer application by 30%, but Adam says every step must be backed by data.

Of course, we want to improve sustainability and work to reduce nitrogen application, but if the data we gathered hadn’t supported that, we would have no interest in making up a story to try and make it work,” he explains. Instead, we are leading with the data toward an outcome, not trying to force something through that isn’t led by science.”

Part of the allure of a data-driven, science-backed method is that it’s always developing and evolving. Every year, the Performance Optimizer and our model-based approach for placement will improve. It will never be done and we never want it to be done!” he says. That’s the promise of this process.”