Growing in Iowa: The Future of Food and Farming
From his time at the University of Iowa to the first startup he founded with support from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, Karsten Temme, Ph.D., credits much of his accomplishments as Pivot Bio CEO and co-founder to the invaluable insight he gained in Iowa.
Pivot Bio is changing the way fertilizer is produced and used by the world’s farmers. The company’s breakthrough crop nutrient technology plays a critical role in the future of farming and contributes to the health of our planet.
As home to some of the country’s leading agricultural thought leaders and an abundance of natural resources, Pivot Bio’s Ames outpost provides the company with firmly planted roots to support its steady growth.
Q: What challenges are you trying to solve and how is Pivot Bio uniquely positioned to solve them?
Karsten Temme (KT): Pivot Bio provides farmers with a better source of nitrogen produced by microbes. The environmentally-sound production process creates microbes that imitate the natural bacteria that help plants grow and thrive, which offers a more efficient and sustainable way for farmers to fuel their crops. Farmers around the world are faced with new challenges associated with rising demand for crops and food ingredients. With that increased demand comes a greater need for a reliable nitrogen source – a vital element in food production – to support productive agricultural practices and ensure a sustainable food supply.
Q: Why is your product a good alternative to synthetic nitrogen?
KT: Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers have played a critical role in farmer productivity, but they carry unintended consequences for farmers and the environment. Only 40-60% of synthetic fertilizer ever reaches the crop it was intended to feed, and the rest is lost. Microbial nitrogen fertilizer can replace the synthetic version commonly used on farms today, leaving farmers feeling confident that their crops are receiving 100% of the nitrogen from Pivot Bio’s microbes and not losing it to the environment.
Q: What was your experience at the University of Iowa like, and how has that provided a foundation for your entrepreneurial journey?
KT: My time at the University of Iowa in Iowa City gave me the confidence to take bold steps during my post-graduate education, which underpins my career today. Professors encouraged and supported my interests, which further fueled my entrepreneurial spirit.
During undergraduate school I launched my first startup, Xwires Communications, which provided internet service to farmers whose land was too remote to access cable. That experience provided invaluable insight into the customers Pivot Bio serves today.
Q: The company is headquartered in Berkley, CA, but your customer team is based in Ames, IA. How do your Iowa-based operations benefit your company and its overall mission?
KT: As we looked at locations for a Midwest-based customer success center, the Iowa State University Research Park provided the best option – a location in the central Iowa corridor alongside leading ag companies, proximity to one of the best ag research universities and students, and close to many of our customers. Ames offers an incredible talent pool and is home to some of the country’s foremost leaders in agriculture who continue to push our thinking.
From the beginning, we wanted to build a grower-centric business that authentically meets farmers’ needs – not what we think their needs should be. We were entering a commodity market with a differentiated product, so we knew staying close to growers could add significant strategic value to our customers.
Q: How far do Pivot Bio’s products reach?
KT: In 2022, Pivot Bio’s products were used on more than 3 million acres in the U.S., covering practically every geographic region in the process. As we gain our footing nationally, we’re launching trials internationally, with ongoing activity in North and South America, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
Recognized as AgriMarketing’s 2022 New Product of the Year, Pivot Bio’s PROVEN 40 On Seed – made in Iowa – provides farmers with access to a dependable source of nitrogen to boost production and increase revenue.
Q: What’s next for Pivot Bio?
KT: Pivot Bio launched a new class of products for 2023 in the form of a seed-applied nitrogen. By applying our nitrogen-producing microbes to seeds directly ahead of planting, we make it easier than ever for farmers to experience the benefit of Pivot Bio’s microbial nitrogen.