BioConsortia: Main challenges to the continued growth of the biopesticide industry are adoption and consistency
−− Interview with Marcus Meadows-Smith, CEO of BioConsortia, Inc.
Jul. 15, 2016
Could you please introduce some details about BioConsortia?
Marcus: BioConsortia is an innovative microbial R & D company, with a revolutionary approach to discovering more effective crop-enhancing biological products. BioConsortia is using its patented Advanced Microbial Selection (AMS) process to discover and develop teams of microbes that enhance plant traits and improve crop yields. Current research is focused on solutions for fertilizer use efficiency, abiotic stress tolerance, biotic stress resistance, and general plant growth improvement. BioConsortia is formulating microbial consortia as seed treatment, and in-furrow products. We are collaborating with seed, traits, seed treatment, fertilizer and distributor companies for sales and marketing. The AMS process is finding teams of microbes that are effective at enhancing important plant traits. Working as a compatible and complementary team, these new biological products can survive in the presence of the growers’ chemical inputs and substantially improve crop performance. Field testing to date has been especially successful on corn and other broad acre crops.
In recent years, many multinational companies, including Top 6 companies, have been stepping into the field of biopesticide by acquired many biopesticide companies. How do you think the latest round of M&A in this space?
Marcus: At this point most of the larger agricultural companies have made their big or meaningful investment into the biologics space: Bayer-AgraQuest, Monsanto-Novozymes, BASF-Becker Underwood, Syngenta-Pasteuria, FMC-Chr Hansen, DuPont Pioneer-Taxon, Koch-Mendel, as well as a number of other smaller acquisitions and partnerships.
More recent activity in this space has been lower profile. We are seeing more distribution and small M&A deals. This year, STK Stockton made an agreement for Syngenta to distribute its biofungicide technology based on tea tree oil in ornamentals. Valent BioSciences entered into a distribution agreement with the BioAg Alliance for their Streptomyces biofungicide and an R&D agreement with Rizobacter; Dow AgroSciences and Radiant Genomics expanded their R&D collaboration on the discovery of naturally derived chemicals; Syngenta sold its biological control subsidiary, Bioline, to French cooperative, InVivo; to name a few.
Given Bayer’s recent bid on Monsanto, ChemChina’s purchase of Syngenta, and the DuPont/Dow merger, the entire ag industry landscape is beginning to look a lot different.
However, the big players will still have a strong appetite for M&A and collaborations with companies, such as BioConsortia, who have a game-changing R&D platforms and superior products. Because further innovation is required to provide solutions with better performance and consistency that address the macro drivers of higher crop yields for a growing population, offer tolerance to climate volatility, and have positive environmental profiles.
Most consulting organizations have predicted that the value of the global biopesticide market is projected to reach USD 6.60 Billion by 2020 at a CAGR of 18.8% from 2015 to 2020.What's your prediction and what do you think are the main challenges to keep this strong growing market for biopesticide industry?
Marcus: I believe that the main challenges to the continued growth of the biopesticide industry are adoption and consistency. Now that biologicals have the attention of the big players, grower apprehension poses the next major challenge. Growers want to see more field data and continued endorsement from ag majors. Growers also need to see consistency. Biologicals have a historic reputation of having inconsistent yield gains and effectiveness. Growers need solutions they can rely on. Improvements in R&D technology and easier access to tools that may otherwise have been too expensive for general ag research purposes are two factors helping to address this consistency concern. For example, 20 years ago it cost $10 million to sequence the human genome, it now costs around $1000 and a bacterial genome is a fraction of the size. Genomics is an important tool for agricultural microbiome research – it is quite common to sequence genomes of microbial communities in and around plant roots. BioConsortia uses DNA sequencing throughout the AMS process to identify the beneficial microbes that increase in frequency through the successive rounds of our discovery process, as the microbiome evolves under an applied selective pressure such as disease, nutrient or drought stress. Technological advancements such as these give researchers more insights into the organisms they are dealing with, helping them to better understand the interaction between microbe and plant. These next-generation products, backed by hard science and big data, are better understood and thus more effective, delivering increased consistency in results.
The macro drivers that prompted the emergence of biological solutions still exist today and are even further exacerbated. Regulatory agencies are cracking down on pesticide residues, fertilizer runoff and leaching, banning some synthetics that are crucial inputs for certain crops. There is outside pressure from the public to limit agricultures impact on the environment and public concern around genetically modified food products. The population continues to grow, however, and more people need to be fed with the limited resources we have available to us. Biologicals and the biopesticide industry are filling this need for sustainable innovation.
In addition, there are significant cost and time benefits to developing biologicals versus the alternatives. Development of a GM trait is said to take 12 years and $130 million. Development of a synthetic pesticide requires 8-10 years and $250 million. Biopesticide development is significantly faster and cheaper, with BioConsortia AMS discovery platform it is take 3-5 years and $5-15 million for biostimulant products. These benefits will keep the market growing rapidly.
Compare with chemical pesticide, biopesticide seems to be more slower effect, which is likely to be one of the challenge to make the farmers accept. So, could you please tell us how do you do in practice, in order to make biopesticide much easier to accept by farmers?
Marcus: Historically this is the case. However, we expect to see faster and more consistent modes of action as the next-generation of products reach the market. Most biologicals work best in a preventative fashion. If adoption increases and products are applied where they work best, growers will find that they experience effective disease and pest management plus better management of abiotic stresses and growth stimulation effects.
Biopesticides, and biologicals as a whole, can bring benefit to crops through several different modes of action. Whereas a chemical pesticide often provides a single mode of action. Biologicals can alter plant structure or induce plant stress responses or improve overall plant health so that it avoids or outgrows a pest invasion, and certain microbes and their metabolites can also inhibit or kill pests directly. Within our own pipeline we have multi-microbe consortia solutions, with complementary functions, that provide these benefits in one.
Some of our lead consortia can be considered similar to improved crop hybrids, as they are applied as seed treatments and offer resistance to specific stresses. We are formulating solutions that survive in the presence of standard chemical inputs, to first prove to growers and other seed treatment companies that our microbials will benefit their crops. Another model is to develop some biologicals together with fertilizers to make plants more efficient at nutrient utilization. Once growers see biologicals as effective they will be more likely to start substituting out chemical alternatives.
It will take a change in mindset and marketing practices by reputable crop input developers and marketers to ultimately drive mass adoption in many markets. This will happen given the superior performance of the next generation of biological products.
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