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Unlocking the Potential of Soil

Charles Smith
Charles Smith - Co-Founder and CEO, IMIO

With Charles Smith of IMIO

Charles Smith is the co-founder and CEO of IMIO, a company dedicated to reshaping how we understand and enhance the productivity and sustainability of our region’s farmlands. As part of our exclusive insight from speakers at March’s Grand Farm Field Days Event, I had the opportunity to sit down with Smith and discuss the innovative approaches that IMIO is taking with Re-Gen, rising initiatives across the nation pertinent to growers, and more.

Smith began by shedding light on the inception of IMIO and its mission to integrate microbial solutions into modern farming practices. “At IMIO, we’ve harnessed the power of microbes to create Re-Gen, a combination of bacteria and fungi that break down plant residues into bioavailable nutrients, turning ‘waste’ into a valuable resource for the next crop cycle,” Smith said.

This microbial solution not only aims to increase farm profitability but also addresses the critical challenge of sustainability in agriculture. Re-Gen was motivated to confront the challenges posed by climate change and the wastage of organic matter. According to Smith, 33-40% of food grown globally is wasted, contributing to methane emissions. “We saw this as both an environmental problem and economic opportunity,” Smith said. “Microorganisms are nature’s key to recycling, so the idea was to create the most effective combination of them for breaking down plant residues into valuable nutrients for farmers. Re-Gen is especially good at breaking down lignin and cellulose, the toughest parts of plant residues, so farmers can get more value from everything in their soil.”

Did You Know?

IMIO develops and manufactures regenerative agricultural products that outperform leading ag chemicals.

IMIO’s Approach

Regenerate: We create products that allow agriculture to return value to natural ecosystems.

Collaborate: We let science and nature work together, rather than pitting them against one another.

Iterate: We believe that incremental progress, sustained over time, adds up to massive results.

Replicate: We take inspiration from the natural symbiotic relationships between plants and beneficial microbes.

– IMIO Website

This approach has the potential to enhance soil health, improve crop yields, and reduce chemical fertilizer reliance. In their trials conducted on corn in Vermont, IMIO has been able to demonstrate 20% plus yield improvements in multiple years with Re-Gen treatments, as well as the potential for fertilizer reductions based on the data that IMIO has collected.

“We’re confident that we’re going to continue seeing strong yield improvements because of the things we’re doing for greater consistency,” Smith said. “There’s so much potential value that we can unlock for farmers in these crop residues. We’re expecting to see really good things as we generate more data in the Corn Belt that can give growers more confidence in the reliability of these products and the potential to increase yield and reduce costs.”

Q&A with Charles Smith

Q: What does growers’ reception appear to be regarding developments such as Re-Gen, or are people accepting of implementing new processes into their soil?

A: From what I’ve seen, more farmers are interested in using some form of microbes to improve their soil health, increase their output, and protect their plants. There’s a real growing awareness of the potential power of microbes, but consistency has been the main challenge for farmers adopting these products. We’ve put a lot of scientific resources into making sure that our microbes are extremely active when used by farmers because the microbes have to be healthy and alive to create value for plants and to ensure that they’re set up for success.

Many farmers recognize the potential of microbial products and know that good soil has a lot of life in it, including insects and microbes. However, there does appear to be some skepticism among growers as to whether or not microbial products will work for them. With a lot of biological products, you need things to go just right. You need the microbes to be able to work their way through the soil, get down to the plant roots, and form a symbiotic relationship. With Re-Gen, growers are spraying our microbes directly onto their plant residues, so they’re set up for success from the beginning— they’re applied directly into the right environment for them to thrive.

Q: What steps are you taking with your product to make the field easier for growers?

A: We’ve developed a freeze-drying methodology that turns our microbes into a shelf-stable powder, so we avoid the variation that can happen when live liquid culture spends time on the back of a truck or a retailer shelf. Furthermore, live liquid culture can lose viability. Microbes can die and you can have population changes based on temperature swings, so we turn our liquid cultures into freeze-dried shelf-stable powders that the farmer mixes with water on-site to ensure that we have high activity levels. As a result, we can guarantee 100,000 times more microbes per acre compared to many other biological products out there, which we’re very proud of.

Q: How are you addressing any skepticism?

A: Our approach is to try to generate and share objective third-party data. Funding from the National Science Foundation has allowed us to work closely with the University of Vermont. This year, we’re going to be doing more trials with other universities including the University of Minnesota, the University of Kentucky, and more. We want to be transparent, show the data, and work with trusted universities, agronomists, and retailers.

Q: Do you see any rising initiatives or efforts across the agricultural industry?

A: I think there’s increasing awareness across the agricultural industry, and in government circles, that we need to get more value to their soil. I think that we’re going to see a lot more emphasis on improving soil health, both for short-term productivity and the long-term value of farmland. We want to help farmers increase the immediate profitability and long-term value of their land for themselves and for future generations, helping them create more value at all stages of that timeline.

More About Re-Gen

“Re-Gen was the first product that we developed with funding from the National Science Foundation. Many crops that we grow commercially have meaningful portions that aren’t sold and are treated as a byproduct. We know there’s a lot of value in those residues and that farmers know that as well. With Re-Gen, we make it easy to recapture more nutrient value through a combination of different microbes. We grow each microbe individually, and mix them at the end of our process, which helps ensure consistency, instead of doing a big batch where you can have variation across different microbial populations.”

– Charles Smith

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