Rizobacter is a company that dared to dream big. It was born 44 years ago in a garage, producing inoculants to support incipient soybean crops in Argentina. Today, it has become an international company, as well as a leader in the biologicals segment, capable of researching and developing efficient solutions for sustainable agriculture.
Rizobacter is now an important part of the NASDAQ listed Bioceres Crop Solutions Group, which aims to be a fully integrated global provider of productivity solutions designed to transition agriculture to carbon neutrality.
Ricardo Yapur, CEO of Rizobacter and about to reach its 40th work anniversary with the firm, had a conversation with AgroPages about the keys of its success and the plans for future growth.
What are your company’s main businesses? What is the most important product line under each business sector? Which products or product category are the company currently focusing on?
We specialize in biologicals through a portfolio that includes inoculants for legumes, biostimulants and biocontrol products. Here lies the core of our business and the focus of our company. Today, we are one of the five largest biologicals companies in the world.
To complement biological nutrition, we added specialty fertilizers to our proposal, guaranteeing efficient, precise and balanced nutrition at key crop stages. Our investment in microgranule technology is the main lever for growth in this line.
In recent years, we have grown strongly in the area of tank-mix adjuvants, with technologies that improve the efficiency of agrochemical applications aimed at reducing environmental impact. We recently inaugurated the largest laboratory in Latin America to evaluate adjuvants and formulations, an advancement to our offer of technologies and services for improving spraying operations.
Rizobacter occupies more than 20% of the international inoculant market, which is an impressive achievement. Could you brief us on the current market developments? How can Rizobacter maintain its leading position in this area?
The latest estimates showed that the inoculants market was valued at US$440 million in 2020, with an annual growth of close to 10%. Inoculants are an essential input for maximizing biological nitrogen fixation, a natural process with multiple benefits. Growth opportunities are possible by increasing the inoculation rate, as well as by incorporating a higher proportion of legumes in crop rotations, to achieve the greater sustainability of farming systems.
I believe that the reasons of our growth are the pillars sustained by the company since its inception, which are customer centricity, constant and high investment in research (30% of profits), a strong commitment to quality in the development and production processes, and a dynamic management that enabled us to adapt to changes. We work under a sustainable management system, with an integrated quality policy certified by the international standards, ISO 9001: 2015, ISO 14001: 2015 and OHSAS 18001: 2007. In 2019, we started the path towards the carbon footprint certification of our plants, under the framework of the ISO 14064 standard.
In 1977, our founder, Miguel Harnan, had a dream, which at that time seemed far-fetched, but he still managed to ‘inoculate’ us with his enthusiasm. Above all, he managed to transfer his values to us and brought us here, and I trust they will take us further. A strong focus on quality, the capacity to dream big and act accordingly, as well as permanent reinvestment and persistence are non-negotiable values in our organization.
Rizobacter operates in more than 40 countries, which regions are covered? Which regions will be the next focus of Rizobacter? How much do exports account for the company's total revenue? What is the company's long-term export growth plan?
We currently have eight subsidiaries located in Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Colombia, the United States, South Africa and France, and we are commercially present in more than 40 countries on five continents.
For this financial year, we estimate that 28% of our turnover will come from international trade, which will represent some US$50 million. Our short-term goal is to reach 30%.
The most geographically developed business that we have today is inoculants, and this represents a challenge. Although the adoption rate of the practice of inoculation is very high in Latin America, the same does not happen in all regions. We still have a lot to do.
In the future, we aim to continue strengthening our position in countries where we are present and enter new markets, such as China. We are a global company and are investing resources to expand our team and be closer to our clients, not only with the best technologies but also through offering a unique service. Our goal is to add value for our customers.
From the company's development history, we can learn that choosing the right business partner is very important to Rizobacter. Could you please share the company's way of choosing partners with us?
At Rizobacter, we like the saying, “Alone we travel fast, but together we travel far.” We are totally convinced that alliances have been and will be essential for our growth. We arrange co-development and commercial agreements with leading companies, such as Momentive, Zschimmer & Schwarz, De Sangosse, Marrone Bio Innovations, Syngenta, Nufarm, Saatbau Linz and Corteva, where we look for synergies and win-win long-term partnerships.
With Syngenta, for example, we combine our offers in some markets, such as commercializing seed treatment packs that combine our inoculants and their seed care products. We have also actively collaborated in a ready-to-use seed concept with Long-Life Inoculant Technology (LLI). More recently, we formed an alliance to offer soybean inoculants in Eastern Europe. Another example of the harmony between both organizations is the fact that the Seedcare Institute in Argentina is located in Rizobacter’s facilities.
Agreements with other companies or research institutions are platforms for learning and have really enabled us to grow in a way we could never have done by ourselves.
One of our most outstanding technologies in recent years is a Trichoderma-based biofungicide developed in conjunction with the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) in Argentina. We are going global with the product, which can be used on wheat, soybean and rice and we are working to expand its use. It is positioned as complementary or an alternative to chemical synthesis products depending on the market and the pathogen pressure.
These are just a few examples of the value of alliances in our history.
It has been five years since Rizobacter was acquired by Bioceres, and we were curious to know about how the two companies merged their respective advantages together and exerted synergies. Bioceres has now entered the capital market, so what impact will this have on Rizobacter's future development?
Bioceres and Rizobacter, before being part of the same group, already shared the same vision of agriculture and believed in the importance of science and research to generating innovations that improve the sustainability of our food production systems.
After the acquisition, that vision was strengthened and, today, we are effectively launching relevant projects and new developments, to become a conglomerate of companies occupying a leading position in the industry. Bioceres Crop Solutions aims to become a fully integrated international provider of crop productivity solutions designed to transition agriculture to carbon neutrality. Rizobacter has a lot to contribute to that mission. Our biological technologies increase biodiversity and improve the resilience of agricultural environments. In addition, they increase carbon sequestration and make crops more climate resilient.
Federico Trucco, CEO of Bioceres, is a leader with a remarkable future vision who has made it easier for us to integrate and find synergies within the group. Rizobacter plays a key role in a production model proposed by Bioceres that enables end-to-end traceability, so consumers are fully aware of what they are consuming and can decide whether they want to consume it, denoting something that we should never lose sight of, which is the fact that at the center of everything is society.
Entering the capital market required considerable effort and work, because it is another way of organizing the company's processes. It is a path that we have been following successfully and we are thrilled by the opportunities it offers to fuel our growth plans.
The agricultural biological market has experienced explosive growth in recent years. As a leading biological company, Rizobacter has been directly witnessing the revolution of this industry. How do you feel about these changes?
After reviewing the history of our company, I can feel nothing but satisfaction and enormous pride. I think we took the correct path, which was full of challenges, but at the end of the day you feel that it was worth it and that you would do it again.
We started with four partners in a garage, who tried to develop a product for soybean when there was still no market in Argentina. We had a leader who knew how to motivate us so nothing seemed impossible. We never imagined that we would be part of a group trading in Nasdaq. I believe that Rizobacter is one of those stories that can inspire other entrepreneurs to take risks and know that dreams, desire, effort, constant investment and persistence are powerful and unstoppable forces.
It also gives me great satisfaction to belong to a sector that is obtaining the best results based on science and technology and in tune with nature.
What are the company's short-term and long-term development plans? What are your expectations for the company’s future?
Expansion in the international market is key to Rizobacter's future growth. Over the next five years, we intend to achieve strong growth in Brazil and the United States, where we plan to invest in manufacturing to respond to specific local market needs.
Growth expectations are driven by several factors. Our biological technologies are friendly to the environment, improve the quality and yields of crops and are safe for producers and consumers. These are also combined with the greater food demand of a growing population and the regulatory directives aimed at reducing the use of chemicals.
New inoculants, biostimulants and biocontrol technologies will enable us to progress in the biologicals segment. We also plan to grow in our adjuvants and specialty fertilizers business, which are the other two lines with considerable potential that make up our portfolio and have strengthened in recent years. We will continue to innovate and improve our portfolio, either through our own means or in association with others. We are flexible in our decision-making, which is one of our competitive advantages.
In a nutshell, our future expectation is to continue responding to the growing demand for safe food, promoting a sustainable production system, and utilizing the best science and our alliances with public entities, companies and farmers from around the world to make this happen.
This article was initially published in AgroPages' '2021 Latin America Focus' magazine.