SODA SPRINGS, Idaho — Dan Lakey raised half of this year’s crops without fertilizer and seed treatments, putting his faith in a “hard to grasp” technology he hadn’t previously tested that uses tractor exhaust.
As he winds up harvest on his 8,000-acre farm, Lakey believes he’s been rewarded for taking such a big gamble on Bio-Agtive — a trademarked process that cools the exhaust and uses chemicals in it as a seed-treatment alternative and a soil biology stimulant.
He explained that ammonium phosphate fertilizer tends to kill beneficial soil organisms and interferes with plants creating their own nutrients through photosynthesis. The new technology gives the soil formaldehyde, formic acid, hydrogen cyanide and sulfur dioxide to protect plants from pathogens.
The system also converts carbon dioxide into a soluble “nano carbon” form that the company claims stimulates photosynthesis and feeds soil organisms that convert di-nitrogen from the atmosphere into proteins, he said.
Farmers who use it say they see improvements over time in plant and soil health, reducing their reliance on pesticides, because they take better advantage of the sun’s energy.
In his trial year, Lakey tested his Bio-Agtive machine — which routes cooled exhaust into his planter’s bin — on wheat, barley, mustard, quinoa, peas and cover crops.
His Bio-Agtive dryland wheat yielded 45 bushels per acre, besting his conventional wheat by 10 bushels. Exhaust-treated wheat also beat conventional test weights by 3 pounds per bushel and produced comparable protein levels.
Results were even more encouraging on his oilseeds and pulse crops. Yields were extremely poor in a test strip he planted without fertilizer or the exhaust.
“Necessity drives change, and that’s what it was for us,” Lakey said. “We were tired of seeing the same (disease) symptoms year after year and feeling hopeless about how to treat them.”
Lakey said he has a marketing advantage because he doesn’t have to sell his grain “at the worst time of the year” to repay roughly $400,000 in annual loans on fertilizer. Based on his initial success, Lakey said he’s planting all 2,000 acres of his winter wheat using Bio-Agtive this fall.
The product’s inventor, Gary Lewis of Alberta, Canada, has developed an updated tractor system that also turns exhaust into a nitrate fertilizer solution, as well as a unit that works from the exhaust on a diesel irrigation engine.
“Soil with fertilizer gets out of balance,” Lewis said. “Our land is getting organic matter, and if you build organic matter, you grow more nutritious food.”
Lewis, who developed the technology for his 600-acre farm in 2002, now works with more than 150 farmers in Canada, the U.S., Australia and Africa. Montana State University researchers have corroborated the technology’s efficacy.
“We don’t need artificial energy to support the landscape,” Lewis said. “We have the sun and the sky, and we have to use them.”