Since the release of seaweed extract products and amino acid fertilizer by companies like Valagro in the 80’s last century, biostimulants have existed for more than 30 years. With the development and application of modern technologies over recent years, the functional mechanism and application technique of biostimulants have further developed. Moreover the concepts such green plantation, organic farming and sustainable development encompassed by modern agriculture have promoted a forward development of biostimulants. Recently, AgroPages had an interview with Mr. Giuseppe Natale, the Chairman of EBIC and CEO of Valagro, who shared with us his unique insight on the biostimulants development and Valagro’s business philosophy of “Science Serves Nature”.
Second from left: Mr. Giuseppe Natale, the Chairman of EBIC and CEO of Valagro
Biostimulants：Re-identified not only “Conception” but also a “Game Rule”
“The past role of biostimulants being simply an agricultural input is being changed, it is now incorporated in an Integrated Tool Package. Through collaboration with other agricultural inputs like seed, fertilizer and pesticide, it contributes to farmer’s increased yield and income, and is playing a part in the sustainable development of modern agriculture.” In the interview, Mr Natale gave a revolutionary description of biostimulants – Integrated Tool Package, which is required to utilize more advanced technology and concept to collaborate with various industry players to serve farmer and agriculture in a more precise manner. Mr Natale holds the view that with the change of role-playing, a change is also taking place to the “Game Rule.”
Over recent years, more and more traditional agrochemicals giants like BASF, Bayer CropScience and FMC have developed an interest to biostimulants sector and they have joined EBIC.
Biostimulants industry players are being diversified, and resources are being consolidated. Complementary advantages have brought about synergistic effect, so competition is changing toward cooperation. Mr Natale believes that the introduction of biostimulants would enable an even better use of traditional chemicals, which enhances agricultural production efficiency (Figure 1). The join-in of new “colleagues” to EBIC not only brings benefit to the fast development of the industry and the continued growth of market capacity, but also facilitates full collaborations between each other using respective advantages. “In the years ahead, cooperation will prevail over competition, as there is still a long way to go until market becomes fully saturated. Each company has plenty of time and room to grow its biostimulants business. The use of effective product and technology in a reasonable manner will create value for farmers, this will be the way of survival for enterprises in the future”, said Mr Natale.
A sound development of the biostimulants industry needs explicit legal norm; innovation in this field requires a flexible regulation. Therefore changes are also taking place to the laws and regulations applicable to biostimulants, as being promoted by EBIC. “Since our founding, EBIC is dedicated to supporting European administration authorities in defining biostimulants and formulating relevant supervisory regulations while taking into account the interests of farmers, consumers and environmental aspects. This will help to distinguish clearly the biostimulants from pesticide and fertilizer for the future European market. With the effort of EBIC, EU has recently proposed to amend relevant laws, which are expected to come in 2018”, said Mr Natal. Furthermore, as not all markets have same attitude to biostimulants, EBIC initiated a code of conduct for biostimulants market launch, which helps users, manufacturers and consumers to better understand the market, which at same time helps to safeguard the reputation of industry and manufacturers. “code of conduct is very necessary for such products before law or regulation is put in place. The performance of the conduct is a kind of forward move towards future EU legal convergence”, said Mr Natale.
As regards to future industry tenancy, Mr Natale said, “the sales volume of biostimulants from 2015 – 2020 are expected to achieve a 2-digit growth. By 2020 the global stimulants market value will reach $2 billion. The industry development relies on scientific and technological advancement, well-established legal system and the presence of heavyweight industry players. The number of players will still grow from time to time and the research input from is going to increase continuously, because R & D is the basis of corporate development, as well as the competitive edge to maintain market position of a company. An enterprise needs to grow from small scale into big scale, from single-product series into diversified product portfolio so as to fulfill the demand of various customers at different levels.”
Valagro: Where Science Serves Nature
After 30-year development, Valagro has today become an industry leader in the biostimulants and special fertilizer sectors, having 14 subsidiaries and 6 factories. Its sales network covers 80 countries across the globe, with sales reaching EUR108 million in 2015,.
In his answer to the question what made Valagro to be an industry leader, Mr Natale believes it to be the result of the company’s assumed responsibility, which has been carried through the development of Valagro all the time since the very beginning. “We assume responsibility for our society and for our next generations”, “merely reliance on chemicals cannot really fulfill the human needs of health food on a sustainable basis, from our generation we must assume our responsibility for pollution control and resource conservation to promote the agricultural sustainable development; we should not shift this responsibility to our next generation”, said Mr Natale.
Innovations applied to product research, manufacturing and marketing are also reasons for Valagro to achieve its market position. Mr Natale attributes its achievement to Valagro’s core technology and strong R & D ability. Valagro established its Geapower platform in 2012, which has focused on innovations for comprehensive solutions via studies of all technical steps such as scientific mechanism, screening of raw materials, production and purification, process optimization and expand application solutions, thus to ensure the value of technical innovation in a lab is realized in a crop field.
“Based upon Valagro’s long-year market experience and technical backup, we are able to effectively identify and screen specific active ingredient, this is a good basis that makes our product to be effective; furthermore, our advanced production process maximize the retention of the activity of the active ingredient, which in return maximizes the efficacy for crop growth and development”, continued Mr Natale, “But this is not sufficient yet, our analytical method used for genomics, proteomics and metabolomics help us a lot to intensively analyze and understand mechanism of action of our product, which then enables us to precisely develop effective product. In this way we could combine research results with field practices, and provide users with diversified crop solutions.”
By virtue of the continually upgraded product, Valagro grows its market step by step steadily. Supported by the successful landing in Europe, Valagro has set up branches one after another in Spain, Greece, Mexico, Colombia followed by acquisition of the Norwegian Algea and the British Maxicrop, as well as setup of a subsidiary in the US.
Speaking of its global market deployment, Mr Natale explained this way, “despite of the great differences between each market, where plantation structure, plantation habit, customer needs and product preference are not all same, but the marketing central strategy of Valagro’s Farm Business Unit is to select customer groups with same values for long-term cooperation and to gradually build up diversified and complete sales network. Via our partner opinion leader, university network, private consultants and the 115 technical & sales managers, crop managers, product managers, trade marketing specialists across the world, we can provide agricultural industry chains at various levels with technical training and market support, which eventually brings value to farmers.”
Concerning Chinese market, the newly established China subsidiary of Valagro best reflects its close attention and decision regarding Chinese market. Mr Natale said, “The setup of a branch in China means a to local Chinese dealers that Valagro’s market strategy is for long run purpose, based upon local market, not for short-term benefit, and we don’t change dealers at will. Cutting-edge technology and modern farm operation are growing rapidly in China and the whole Asia, where government and normal people have started to pay attention to sustainable development. If farmers are provided with the chances of using biostimulants, it would mean higher yield and higher quality because of the benefit of farming efficiency; in the meantime, environmental impact is reduced, which is well in line with government’s objective of reduction of the use of pesticide and fertilizer. Valagro will, via enhanced research activities provide innovative and efficient solutions to meet the widespread crop nutrient requirement.”
As regards to future development of Valagro, Mr Natale said, “In the years to come, we will make effort to shape our trinity business strategy (bio-stimulants, bio-fertilizers and bio-control). Through consolidated scientific method, we are prepared to develop innovative biosolutions; to optimize all steps of the technical solutions such as seed treatment, crop nutrient management, crop physiological regulation, crop yield improvement, crop diseases and insect pest control, as well as soil environment improvement (Figure 2). To fulfil the soil and crop nutrient requirement, we provide market with safe and efficient bio-stimulants, bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides; this will help to reduce the use of chemical hormone, fertilizer and pesticide to the benefit of environmental protection. We fulfill our philosophy of “Science Serves Nature.”