Gleadell Agriculture has reached an exclusive agreement with Azotic Technologies to develop and market a seed-based nitrogen fixing technology in the UK for both arable crops and grassland.

The Natural Plant Nutrition (NPN4) microbial nitrogen-fixing technology is manufactured by the Dutch company Koppert Biological Systems. Azotic Technologies, which works from laboratories in Nottingham, was formed in 2012 to commercialise the Nottingham University technology and has proved the concept in a diverse range of crops globally, including cereals, oilseeds, potatoes and grass. Gleadell has been working with Azotic since 2012 – the agreement between the two companies covers extensive development work, including seed inoculation and a network of organic and conventional trials across the UK.

The NPN4 seed treatment, suitable for both organic and conventional systems, colonises all crops with naturally occurring nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Unlike the leguminous N-fixing mechanism that is restricted to root systems, the NPN4 microbes spread throughout the plant, enabling every cell to convert atmospheric N into a form that the growing plant can use.

The partners say that trials to date have shown that NPN4 either allows reduced rates of nitrogen to be applied to crops to produce similar yields and quality to those grown entirely with artificial nitrogen, or increases crop yields when used in conjunction with a normal fertiliser programme.

While the initial focus will largely be on organic crops in 2017 – organic bodies have approved the product – Gleadell sales director Stuart Shand believes the technology will have a huge part to play in conventional systems. “We have been conducting application trials on dressed seed in partnership with Koppert. While this is currently work in progress at this stage, we have seen some very encouraging results,” he says. While stressing that it is early days, Mr Shand believes potential wheat yield increases of 5-15% are achievable with NPN4.

“We are very excited to be working with Azotic Technologies as UK partner on their nitrogen project,” says Gleadell managing director David Sheppard. “The potential benefits for growers, consumers and the environment are enormous, and we very much look forward to further collaboration with Azotic to bring this technology to commercial reality.”

Azotic’s chief executive Peter Blezard adds: “Our field trials results clearly indicate that the inoculation of NPN4 into plants can improve their performance and reduce the amount of fertiliser required to grow a crop, or increase yield depending on the rate of N applied.

“Gleadell is an ideal partner in the UK to help accelerate product development and take this technology to market.”

For Koppert Biological Systems, chief executive Paul Koppert says:  “NPN4 aligns with our broadening microbial portfolio of products to improve and protect yields in horticulture and broad-acre crops. It will fit discerning organic growers now and conventional arable farmers later.

“It is great to work with an entrepreneurial company such as Gleadell and the smart Azotic team on this breakthrough technology.”