May 20, 2021

Big Progress = Fast, Robust Results at Ames Innovation Center

Agronomists rely on accurate, timely soil intelligence when making recommendations that impact yield and bottom line for their customers. To that end, the Trace Genomics Ames Innovation Center and its team of unparalleled experts has made big progress in reducing turnaround times so agronomists can put Trace Genomics’ unmatched soil DNA capabilities and other diagnostics to work for farmers in real time.

Trace combines soil biology and chemistry data to produce actionable recommendations that help farmers optimize inputs, reduce yield loss from pathogen pressure and integrate soil health practices into management decisions. It’s the only company offering soil biology capabilities through whole genome sequencing.

“On the biology side, turnaround times that were between 20 and 40 days are now down to as few as 10,” said Brad Roetman, director of operations at the Ames facility. “Chemistry analysis that last fall could take up to 10 days can now be turned around in as few as two.”

No one wants to wait a month, “especially in today’s world where we expect real-time delivery on everything we buy,” said John Jansen, Trace Genomics vice president of commercial operations. “That applies to ag, too. Agronomists and growers want diagnostics back quickly so they can make sound science-based decisions and move to the next challenge.”

Chalk up the Ames Innovation Lab enhancements to streamlined processes, the implementation of innovative digitization, and an ambitious and growing staff of experts with a current combined 200+ years of soil science experience.

“When you work with Trace, you don’t just get results back. You get a team to help interpret it,” said Jansen. “There are not many services in agriculture that provide that kind of assistance in understanding your soil.”

There are a lot of soil labs. This state-of-the-art lab is different, offering the most comprehensive soil biology and chemistry analysis available.

“We call it the Ames advantage,” said Jansen. “We’re harnessing the power of soil science and machine learning to give agronomists and growers intelligence they can’t get anywhere else in the combined areas of biology, chemistry and carbon.”

Trace Biology

While other labs conduct very targeted assays and measurements, Trace Genomics conducts whole genome sequencing called TraceBIO™ to help growers “understand the ‘bad guys,’ the pathogens that create disease and rob yield, and the ‘good guys’ that enable nutrient cycling and can help improve nutrient use efficiency,” said Jansen.

The expedited 10-day turnaround times for soil biology results are due in part to moving DNA testing to Ames from Trace’s home base in California, and a streamlined process using new automation like RFID chips to assure traceability. And it won’t stop there; Jansen says the goal is one week turnaround for soil biology in the months ahead.

In addition, Ames has pioneered the digitization of lab results, which are geospatially referenced – enabling growers to access information from the cloud, upload to their farm management software systems and create prescriptions for fertility and seeding, for example.

Trace Chemistry

The same front-end processes used on the biology side are used with chemistry, too, with TraceCHEM™ – incorporating automation and efficiencies that have greatly improved turnaround times.

“It’s about getting results back so growers can get out and apply  their fertilizers,” said Roetman. “They have other work to do so they want to get to recommendations as fast as they can.”

Trace Genomics offers a full range of tests including TraceCHEM Complete™ providing best-in-class macro and micro soil chemistry indicators for fertility rate maps.  One differentiator is the WET-K test that enables reporting of plant-available K levels for improved rate maps – often 5 to 10 percent more efficient in potassium utilization by more accurately reporting K levels often tied up in soil clay and not detected by traditional lab methods.

Trace Carbon

Trace Genomics offers carbon measurement, too, with TraceCARBON™ The foundation of soil productivity, carbon and organic matter are what enable nutrient exchange in the soil.

Because of soil’s massive potential to store carbon and its foundational role in growing our food and fostering biodiversity, it presents an opportunity for farming to positively impact climate change, biodiversity and food security.

“Farmers have always aspired to improve soil organic matter and carbon to improve yields and productivity,” said Jansen. “Now, sequestering carbon is more important than ever before with an increasing number of companies turning their attention to achieving bold environmental sustainability goals. Farmers can help them get there and we’re the only lab that can quantify and verify how much carbon is actually in the soil.”

The difference in carbon year over year is small so having a highly accurate ability to measure annually is critically important.

“We have the most accurate measurement of soil carbon, chemistry, biology available,” said Jansen.      

And now understanding the soil microbiome is more cost-effective, too.

It’s more affordable. Samples that used to cost thousands of dollars now cost around just over $100 for TraceBIO™ and TraceCHEM™ . Prices have decreased 50 percent over the last 12 months.

“An affordable solution, it’s something you can stack on top of your traditional soil test and have a comprehensive set of new insights that you never had before,” said Jansen.


Read more about the Ames Innovation Center: The Ames Innovation Center: New Lab on Cutting Edge of Soil Science

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