US: Investors back forage and soil quality focused firm

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
Wisconsin based Midwestern BioAg has generated $21.3 in a capital round from non-agricultural investors.

The company manufactures and distributes fertilizers aimed at building soil health, reducing the environmental impact of crop cultivation, with the goal of increasing yields and the nutritional quality of both food and forage.

It said its products and practices engage soil life, enhance nutrient use efficiency, build soil organic matter, improve crop resiliency and increase the long-term productivity of farmland. 

Kevin Sweeney, chief marketing officer for Midwestern BioAg told us: "Everything we do is gentle on soil microbes, [and] to encourage soil microbes. [If we] encourage the microbes to bring the nutrients into the crop it means they’re not leaching into the atmosphere or waterways.”

Investors in Midwestern BioAg, which was founded in 1983, include Bison Capital Partners, S2G Ventures, Tau Investment Management and Madison Bay Capital Partners. "We see a company successfully weathering a very challenging time in American agriculture,”​ said Ping Chu, a partner at Bison Capital. “The choices it is making are positioning the company for significant growth, even in advance and independent of a recovery in the farm economy." 

Sweeney said the company is planning to use the capital raised to expand different parts of the business including growing in-house product manufacturing with a new facility, equipment and additional employees.

Nitrogen reduction

In the last few years, Midwestern BioAg has become more interested in research focused on boosting sustainability, documenting what happens when their products are used, said Sweeney. “We have a large number of growers who have reduced nitrogen use 40-60%,”​ he added.

In a recent trial looking at oat production, nitrogen emissions from the fields in production were reduced almost by half, he said. Additionally, the beta-glucan levels in those oats was increased by 59% and protein content grew by about 50% said Sweeney.

The firm is also an advocate for sustainable production practices including use of cover crops and crop rotation.

“If you can go from 3% to 4% [soil organic matter] that does a bunch of things,”​ said Sweeney. “There’s a lot of carbon in your soil to support microbial life and it allows the soil to hold more water and one of the statistics is, it allows for the collection of 20,000 gallons per acre.” 

Animal nutrition 

The company said as it is conscious of both the top-line production and bottom-line costs, it considers animal nutrition from the ground up, taking a systems-approach to herd management to help producers grow better quality, higher-yielding forages that reduce dependency on supplemental feeds and minerals.

"But even with high-quality forages, livestock still need supplemental nutrition. Our nutrition specialists work with producers to ensure that feeding programs are balanced and complete,"​ said the firm.

It produces a line of livestock mineral and nutrition products to help meet a herd’s needs: "Working with our nutrition specialists, we help maximize return on feed inputs and increase production across the operation."

Organic production 

Roughly 30% of Midwestern BioAg's customers are organic crop growers. "We don’t believe in the 'organic by neglect' approach, which suggests that stopping the use of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic nutrients is enough. We help our organic growers identify yield-limiting factors and generate plans to overcome them. Using our system, we’ve seen organic farms attain yields comparable to their conventional counterparts,"​ said the company.

And it said it regularly helps conventional farmers make the shift to organic production.

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