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Joint EPA-USDA competition launched in USA for enhanced efficiency fertilizers

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The entry details of the two competitions under the Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges were presented in a webinar on 24 September 2020. The official start date was 26 August. The supporting agencies are The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

The aim of the two competitions is to stimulate the development and uptake of affordable EEFs to reduce the environmental impacts of corn production.

The first competition is for EEFs currently on the market or near to market launch. Companies, or ‘solvers’ as the entrants are called, submit their product to the judging panel, providing evidence how the product reaches the environmental and agronomic requirements.

The environmental requirements include reduction in ammonia volatilization, N2O emissions, run-off and leaching of nitrogen and/or phosphorus.

The purpose of the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge is to identify the EEFs that meet or exceed these and the agronomic requirements. There is no age restriction on the products already on the market, and in both competitions the solvers maintain all IP rights. The judging panel consists of members from industry, academia, and relevant agencies.

The agronomic benefits must be specifically for corn, and the product compatible with current machinery and practices. Submissions close 30 October. Those that are short-listed will be recognised as the Stage 1 winners, and they will be invited to participate in a greenhouse trial (Stage 2) in 2021, and following those results there is advancement to field trials (Stage 3). There is no cash price for this competition. Winners of Stage 1 receive recognition, although it was made clear in the webinar Q&As that this is not an endorsement, and these winners will be invited to a showcasing event, with a date to be announced.

The second competition has been given the title of Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge. As explained in the webinar, this competition is looking to identify technology not currently on the market, and can be more conceptual in nature. The EPA website says these entries may include “technology concepts that are not traditional EEFs and not in commercial use as a fertilizer”.

Solvers need to present an idea for an innovative EEF that could improve on the same environmental requirements mentioned above, and deliver agronomic benefits such as not increasing net farm costs. IP rights are retained by the entrants. The solutions must also be compatible with current equipment for corn production.

The closing date for entries is 30 November 2020, with the winners announced in 2021. Entrants are required to register with this competition, but not with the other challenge.

With the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge, there is a $65,000 cash pool, which can be allocated to different entries, with a minimum award of $10,000.

Multiple entries are possible. In the Q&A at the end of the webinar it was confirmed that companies from outside the USA were eligible to enter, but that cash prizes were reserved for US entrants only.

The approved term for what constitutes an EEF is based on the definition fromAAPFCO, Association of American Plant Food Control Officials. In 2013, AAPFCO defined EEFs as: “fertilizer products with characteristics that allow increased plant uptake and reduce the potential of nutrient losses to the environment (e.g., gaseous losses, leaching, or run-off) when compared to an appropriate reference product.” During the Q&A, it was clarified that the definition also includes fertilizer products containing stabilizing products, such as urease inhibitors.

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