Aug. 20, 2020
Plant Health Care is a leading provider of proprietary biological products to global agricultural markets. The company attaches great importance to product R&D and is famous for its core Plant Response Elicitors technology (PREtec).
Why should the company focus on Plant Response Elicitors research? What products does the company currently have and how does the specific market perform? What are the plans for the future? With these questions, we interviewed Christopher Richards, the CEO of Plant Health Care.
Could you share with us what kind of company Plant Health Care is?
Plant Health Care® is a leading provider of proprietary agricultural biological products and technology solutions focused on improving crop performance. We offer products to improve the health, vigour and yield of major field crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton and rice, as well as speciality crops such as fruits and vegetables. We operate globally through subsidiaries, distributors and supply agreements with major industry partners.
Our innovative, patent-protected biological products help growers to protect their crops from stress and diseases, and to produce higher quality fruit and vegetables, with a favourable environmental profile.
What are the products which Plant Health Care sells today?
Plant Health Care’s Commercial business is driven by sales of Harpin αß, a recombinant protein which acts as a powerful biostimulant, promoting the yield and quality of crops. Plant Health Care also sells the proprietary soil treatment Myconate in selected countries. Plant Health Care sells Harpin αß and Myconate through specialist distributors around the world. In Mexico, Plant Health Care also distributes third-party biological products in addition to our Harpin αß business.
Where is Plant Health Care active around the world with current sales?
Plant Health Care has outstanding market access, through strong relationships with well-established distributors in a range of countries; we are also seeking additional distributors in some areas. In the USA, we sell through two of the five largest ag input distributors, which gives us outstanding market coverage. In Brazil, we are currently selling into sugar cane and seeking distributors for sales into other crops. In Mexico, we sell a broad range of products to retailers across the entire country. Current distribution elsewhere is patchy, with sales building in countries such as Spain, UK, Turkey and S. Africa, but with many other countries where we have limited or no presence.
We know that Plant Health Care’s R&D effort is now focusing on its next-generation plant response elicitor technology (PREtec). Could you tell us what is PREtec? Why should companies focus on this area?
PREtec – Plant Response Elicitors technology – are peptides (short chains of amino acids) derived originally from naturally occurring harpin proteins. PREtec peptides act by initiating a complex defense mechanism in plants, analogous in some ways to a broad spectrum immune response in animals. This protective response makes the plant resistant to a wide range of fungal and bacterial diseases during the growing season. In addition to protecting against various diseases, PREtec peptides enhance tolerance to abiotic stress such as drought, leading to enhanced plant growth and yield. The company has three distinct PREtec platforms, focused either on disease control, nematode control, or biostimulants.
What do you think are the significant advantages of plant immune proteins products? Where are the future market opportunities for plant immune proteins?
Unlike the action of most chemical pesticides, PREtec peptides are environmentally friendly and do not interact directly with disease pests. Consequently, these pests are not expected to develop resistance. Because of their unique mode of action, PREtec peptides complement and are compatible with existing chemical fungicides and can be deployed as part of an IPM strategy. As concerns about the environmental footprint of large-scale agriculture continue to grow, farmers and consumers will increasingly demand ‘greener’ products such as PREtec.
The opportunities for PREtec are very broad: Plant Health Care is partnering with a number of companies globally exploring a variety of PREtec product concepts in both specialty and row crops, through both foliar and seed treatment application, and as solo products and mix partners. Solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing farmers are under development and we are very optimistic about the ability of PREtec to bring added value to growers. In the near-term, we are excited about the potential of our lead PREtec peptide, PHC279, as a seed treatment for the management of Asian soybean rust in Brazil, as well as in the US to enhance the activity of foliar fungicides in corn, soy and vegetable crops. In the medium-term, our PREtec peptide for nematode control is delivering impressive results from multi-state field testing in soy and specialty crops and is expected to be embraced by growers after receiving regulatory approval.
Compared with other companies that do plant immune proteins on the market, what do you think is the biggest advantage of Plant Health Care?
This is a great question. There are very few products currently on the market that claim to work via stimulating plants’ immune response and those that do are known to have formulation limitations, to cause a drag on crop yield, or to act via poorly understood mechanisms. PREtec peptides have none of these shortcomings. Rather, PREtec is based on cutting-edge science built up over years of research and development to develop a new class of products that are stable, can be formulated as liquids or dry granules, and deliver dependable results.
Which market areas is Plant Health Care focusing on now? What are the future market development plans?
Currently, Plant Health Care has commercial operations in the US, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Spain, UK, Italy, Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Portugal and South Africa. Our plans are to expand into Argentina and Taiwan when we receive regulatory approvals. Plant Health Care products are focused into the specialty and row crops markets delivering yield and quality improvements to those crops which give the grower a greater return for their crop.
In terms of product line, does Plant Health Care plan to expand the existing product line? If so, could you share with us the company's existing product line and R & D pipeline?
Absolutely. Today we market and sell Harpin ab and Myconate into the row crop and specialty crop markets. We are excited about the launch of our next generation technology we call PREtec. Plant Health Care has filed for the first PREtec product registrations in the US and Brazil and we expect registrations in 2021 with first potential sales in 2022. Plant Health Care is finalizing the scale up of the manufacturing and will be looking to produce on a full-scale basis to meet the product launch dates. In parallel, we are looking for complementary products to sell through our strong network of distribution relationships.
What are Plant Health Care's requirements for partners in choosing a distribution partner? Does the company have plans to explore new markets such as Brazil and China?
It is a great question. Plant Health Care is a small biological company so when choosing our distribution partner first we are looking for leading distributors who have a strong presence in the row crop and specialty crop markets. Next we are looking for partners who have strong technical and marketing skills with a presence in the market to reach the grower. Lastly, we look for partners who want to add new technology to their portfolio and extract value from the market that is meaningful for both parties. This alignment with large distributors is what sets us apart from other biological companies and gives us confidence in our growth plans for the business. We are currently open to inquiries from distributors interested in exploring opportunities for Harpin αβ in crops where we have demonstrated compelling performance, such as soy, corn, cane, and citrus in Brazil, South Asia, China and East Asia.
This article was originally published in AgroPages' 2020 Biologicals Special.
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