The NoduMax legume inoculant is a product that contains nitrogen-fixing rhizobia able to colonize the roots of soybean and literally transform the crop into a “biological factory” drawing valuable nitrogen from the atmosphere, improving both the crop and soil. The development of NoduMax as an enterprise within the IITA Business Incubation Platform (BIP) is indeed timely considering that soybean farmers in West Africa lack access to this product. The year 2014 was an ambitious one for NoduMax as it witnessed the completion of its factory within the BIP complex, several months of product development, adjustments to its production line, and the establishment of quality assurance, registration, and marketing activities.
Completion of the NoduMax factory
The factory was designed and construction started in the latter part of 2013. The 240-m2 design is based upon different steps and workstations of inoculant production: supply warehousing, carrier preparation, rhizobial broth production and mixing, curing to multiply and harden the rhizobia to withstand stress, product packing and storage, quality control, and marketing. Many of these workstations require different optimal temperatures and levels of sterility and this influenced factory design and construction features. Construction was completed in April 2014, allowing for the installation of factory equipment and initiation of NoduMax product development.
Inoculant is typically produced by one of two basic approaches; bulk mixing followed by tray curing and carrier injection with curing in small bags. The former approach allows for ease in scaling up factory operations but exposes the product to potential contaminants; the latter is more controlled but labor-intensive. Both approaches were evaluated over several months and a combined production method was identified.
Production of NoduMax inoculant involves the sterilization of a carrier material, mass rearing of rhizobia in broth culture, mixing the two together, curing the raw product to harden the rhizobia to stand environmental stresses, packaging the product along with a seed adhesive and detailed user instructions, and then boxing and storing the packaged product under cool conditions. The current carrier material is imported, finely ground peat that is gamma-irradiated for near complete sterility. The broth consists of Bradyrhizobium japonicum strain USDA 110, a widely recognized industry standard, raised in large flasks under filtered aeration. Broth is injected into large carrier bags, mixed and placed into racks in the temperature- and humidity-controlled curing room for many days. Once cured, the bags are portioned into 100-g packets for marketing. Each package of NoduMax is used to inoculate 10 to 15 kg of soybean seeds just before planting, so about six packets costing only US$15 are required per hectare. The factory is currently able to produce 800 packets daily but plans for increased broth production will raise that level to 1200 units daily.