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Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges

Next Gen Fertilizer ChallengesNext Gen Fertilizer Challenge

A Joint EPA-USDA Partnership and Competition on Next Gen Fertilizers to Advance Agricultural Sustainability in the United States

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Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers facilitate the growth of crops, including corn, at yields that provide sustained global food production. However, fertilizers applied without consideration of the appropriate rate, timing, source, and method, can have harmful effects on the environment and human health. “Enhanced Efficiency Fertilizer” (EEF) is a term for new formulations that control fertilizer release or alter reactions that reduce nutrient losses to the environment. EEFs and other next generation product technology innovations may be an important addition to a system of conservation practices that help reduce the impacts from row crop agriculture on the environment, while maintaining or increasing agricultural productivity and profitability.

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Goal of the Two Challenges

To help mitigate these adverse effects, EPA is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to launch the Joint EPA-USDA Partnership and Competition on Next Gen Fertilizers to Advance Agricultural Sustainability in the United States. Along with EPA and USDA, the competition is in collaboration with The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

This Partnership is being coordinated with input from stakeholders such as corn grower representatives, fertilizer companies, university researchers, and environmental and industry NGOs. This competition includes two challenges which aim to accelerate the development and use of existing and new product technologies that are affordable to reduce the environmental impacts of U.S. corn production. The results of the Partnership may ultimately be leveraged to improve production of other crops and in the U.S. and abroad.

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1. EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge

This Challenge aims to identify existing EEFs currently on or near-market that meet or exceed certain environmental and agro-economic criteria.

Challenge Start Date: 9:00 AM ET, August 26, 2020

Challenge End Date: 11:59 PM ET, October 30, 2020 - *this challenge is now closed for submissions.

Prizes: Winners of the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge will receive scientific evaluation and recognition from EPA, USDA, and other partners and participants; advancement to a greenhouse trial (Stage 2); and, pending greenhouse trial results and available funds, advancement to field trials (Stage 3). No monetary prize awarded. Winners of Stage 1 will also be invited to a showcasing event (date and location to be determined), where winners of both Challenges will share ideas and spark innovation.

Registration is not required prior to submission.

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2. Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge

This Challenge aims to identify concepts for novel technologies for fertilizers and other product technology innovations that can reduce the environmental effects from modern agriculture while maintaining or increasing crop yields. Submissions to the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovation Challenge may include technologies that are not currently on the market or technology concepts that are not traditional EEFs and not in commercial use as a fertilizer.

Challenge Start Date: 9:00 AM ET, August 26, 2020

Challenge End Date: 11:59 PM ET, November 30, 2020 - *this challenge is now closed for submissions.

Prizes: Winners of the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge will receive minimum $10K award per winner from a total prize purse of $65,000 and be invited to the showcasing event (date and location to be determined), where winners of both Challenges will share ideas and spark innovation.

For more information go to the pageExit

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Informational Webinar

An informational webinar for the two Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges was held on September 24, 2020. Participation in the informational webinar was not required for either challenge.

View the Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges Informational Webinar slides.

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Contact Information

If you have questions about the the Next Gen Fertilizer Challenges email

To help raise awareness of the Challenges, please use #NextGenFertilizerChallenges in your social media posts. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can an individual or organization submit multiple submissions? 
    1. Yes, an individual or organization may submit multiple solutions. However, solutions that use the same or similar ingredient technology used at multiple concentrations or inclusion rates should be submitted as one application. If different ingredients are used to create multiple technologies, multiple applications may be submitted.
  2. Can one person or organization win multiple awards?
    1. Yes, one person or organization may win or be recognized for multiple solutions.
  3. What if I am an international entity, can I participate?
    1. Anyone can participate in either challenge and be eligible to receive non-monetary recognition, but only domestic (U.S.) entities can win the cash prizes in the “Next Gen Fertilizer Innovation Challenge.”
  4. Will IP be retained by the Challenge participants?
    1. Yes. Solvers are not required to give up any of their intellectual property (“IP”) rights to be eligible to receive an award.
  5. Will submissions from winners and non-winners be shared with the public?
    1. Actual proposals will not be shared. We will confirm in advance with solvers any information on winning submissions prior to public release.
  6. What kind of recognition or accreditation will the winner receive?
    1. There is no cash prize for the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge. Winners names and affiliations will be included in public announcements, and any press releases issued by EPA, USDA, or the  collaborators.  Winners will not receive any accreditation or endorsement by participating in the challenge.  A showcasing event is being planned (date and location TBD) for a number of challenge participants to attend and share ideas and information.
  7. How many prizes will be awarded with the “Next Gen” Challenge?
    1. Up to 6 cash prizes may be awarded as part of the “Next Gen” Challenge.  The minimum prize is $10,000 and maximum prize is $65,000.
  8. How will the greenhouse trials be conducted?
    1. We plan to conduct the greenhouse trials at the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) in Muscle Shoals, AL. We plant to use established IFDC protocols that have been vetted by the partners and collaborators of this Challenge, the example is here. Once the winners are selected, we may need to adapt the protocols based on the technologies that are advancing.
  9. Is a recording of the webinar available?
    1. The webinar was not recorded. Slides are available on this page.
  10. When are submissions due?
    1. Submissions to the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge are due October 30, 2020.  Submissions to the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge are due November 30, 2020.
  11. Is the EEF term one that pertains to approval by AAPFCO? Or is this a term that anyone can use as long as the fertilizer in question exhibits enhanced characteristics? 
    1. For the “EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge,” we are using the AAPFCO (Association of American Plant Food Control Officials) definition as well as accepting other fertilizer product formulations with stabilized, slow or controlled release properties that have not yet obtained AAPFCO recognition.  The “NextGen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge” is open to conventionally defined EEFs and non- conventionally defined EEFs, as well as non-EEF products that increase efficiency of nutrient use in corn.
  12. If I have an N-only or P-only product, should I enter? Won’t I be penalized if the scoring is out of 100?
    1. Entries that only address N, or only address P, will be scored based on points applicable to the product type. The description above states: “The example rubric above is for a solution that addresses N and P. For solutions that address only one nutrient (e.g. N), the possible points for the other nutrient (e.g. P) will be zeroed out such that the total points possible will be less than 100 (i.e. 90 points possible for N-only solution, 80 total points possible for P-only solution).”
  13. The discussion of the challenge is focused on N and P.  Where do products to enhance other nutrients fit?   
    1. Products that enhance other nutrients are eligible as long as they also can demonstrate increase to the efficiency of N and P.
  14. Are you able to accept new members to the judging panel?
    1. We have already identified all the members for our judging panel.
  15. Can products be submitted as numbered compounds or are Trade Names required?
    1. If the product is on or ready for market, it would be preferable that the product be identified by its recognized or intended name along with any CAS number(s) (Chemical Abstract Services). Trade names are not required, but we cannot fully evaluate proposal without knowing its chemical makeup (e.g., for the toxicity criteria).
  16. Is this limited to fertilizers only or fertilizer additives used in conjunction with fertilizers?
    1. Both are eligible as long as they address N and/or P.
  17. Will the evaluations be conducted in the same manner as conducive to demonstrate the value the product brings? 
    1. Yes, the greenhouse trials will be conducted in the manner in which the product is intended to be used. We have draft protocols for the greenhouse evaluations that are available here. These draft protocols will be revised with input from Challenge winners to make sure that we are appropriately testing individual products.
  18. What is the EPA/USDA’s perspective on return on investment win?  (1:1, 3:1…)?
    1. No specific guidance, but 1:1 or better is preferred.
  19. Some of our technologies currently in development don’t yet have EPA registration. Would that be a concern?
    1. No, this does not affect Stage 1. Pending the active chemistry, that may only affect Stage 3, where we are limited to a 10 acre field size for products that are not registered under FIFRA (see “Exemptions from EUP Requirements”, here).
  20. Would there be an NDA signed between Solver and Seeker, including the judges, regarding the information submitted?
    1. Yes, seekers and judges will sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Conflict of Interest (COI) forms.  Statements pertaining to CBI to be that is withheld from the submission or included in the submission but to be withheld from either the judging panel or the public, should be included in the submission.
  21. Who is eligible to submit a proposal and win? Small businesses? Professors? U.S. or non-U.S. entities?
    1. U.S. or international individuals or organizations are eligible to submit solutions to the Challenges.
  22. Is corn the only crop of interest? Can other crops data be used to prove environmental and agronomic value (not just data from corn)? Does the crop in question have to *be* corn, or just the methods need to tie back and be applicable/replicable for corn?
    1. These Challenges focus on corn because it is the largest consumer of fertilizer in the U.S. and the world. That said, we hope that the technologies spurred and lessons learned will apply to other crops. If participants do not have data on efficacy for corn but do have data on efficacy for other crops (e.g. vegetables), you may still participate. However, judges will take into account how confident they are that the technologies are relevant for corn, thus the more directly relevant information the better.
  23. What is the benefit to a company?
    1. The value to the company is the independent review of your proposal by a panel of experts, the anonymized ranking of your proposal compared with other submissions, the invitation to a showcasing event to learn from peers, and potential recognition and publicity from winning a Challenge. Winners are not endorsed by the Challenge organizers, but you may use the results of the Challenge in promotional material.
  24. Who is on the expert judging panel? Can I nominate someone (or myself) to serve?
    1. The judging panel consists of experts from academia, government, and trade organizations across a range of technical areas (such as agronomy, biogeochemistry, chemistry, and microbiology.). Their identities will remain anonymous until after the judging to preserve the integrity of their deliberations. We have already identified all the members for our judging panel.
  25. What needs to be included in the 10-page submission? Does that include tables and graphs? Can we submit appendices?
    1. The contents of the 10-page description are described on the Challenge websites and should include everything needed to judge the submission aside from references.
  26. What do you mean by “near market?”
    1. For the purpose of these Challenges, near market refers to products that will be available for testing at IFDC during winter 2020-2021 and may be available for use by farmers in a few years.
  27. There are some concerns about disclosure of confidential/trade secret information concerning the MOA disclosure. How detailed do you have to describe the technology to qualify?
    1. The submission will be shared only with the Steering Committee and with the Judging Panel. The submission needs to be detailed enough to evaluate based on the criteria listed on If there is anything that should not be shared with the Review Panel, there is a CBI provision in the submission.  Statements regarding CBI to be withheld from the submission or included in the submission but to be withheld from either the judging panel or the public, are required as part of the submission.
  28. What will be communicated externally versus with the participants? Will there be a ranking? Will that be public?
    1. We will not be making public a ranking of products or the judges scoresheet. Solvers will receive the full judges’ scoresheet with feedback and scores for their submission, along with a ranking of their product compared with other anonymous solutions. We will identify winners publicly. We will confirm in advance with solvers any information on winning submissions prior to public release.
  29. I am assuming that this challenge is specifically for synthetic/mineral fertilizers, and not for other types of fertilizers, such as manures. Is that correct? 
    1. Yes, the Challenges both focus on product formulations that enhance or otherwise improve nutrient use efficiency of fertilizers. Manure-based final products are not the focus of this challenge. That does not mean all organic fertilizers are out; it just means that the final product formulation should yield a high-density nutrient fertilizer that is compatible with commonly used mineral fertilizer application equipment. The input material to that final high-density product may or may not be organic. And, this technology should seek to improve the nutrient use efficiency of N and P.
  30. What about my technology that uses remote sensing and land surface models along with precision agriculture and real-time instrumentation in the soil column and on the field to sustainably manage nutrient timing and applications?
    1. This is not eligible for these Challenges. These Challenges are focused on fertilizers and other product formulations that enhance nutrient use efficiency, and that farmers could use with existing machinery and practices. We are not targeting precision agriculture software/hardware in these Challenges, though we recognize the important role that they may play in improving agricultural sustainability. The USDA Agriculture Innovation Agenda (, which is broader, may be a good fit for your technologies.
  31. What about my hardware technology (e.g. spreaders) that enables for more efficient and effective placement of conventional fertilizer to reduce nutrient losses?

    a. This is related to FAQ#30. We recognize that these precision agriculture hardware and software technologies are important, but they not eligible under these Challenges which focus on novel fertilizers and other product formulations that enhance nutrient use efficiency

  32. Is it required or worthwhile to include a description of budget needs and justification within the 10-page submission? 

    a. For the EEFs: Environmental and Agronomic Challenge, there is no budget or budget justification needed. For the Next Gen Fertilizer Innovations Challenge, in the "Trajectory to Market" section (#7 in the Required Information), please provide broad descriptions of the resources, steps, and timeline to bring your solution to fruition. There is no detailed budget or budget justification needed, but a general description is required in this section.

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