We discuss some of the companies developing alternative 'green' solutions for improving plant yields. Companies in this feautre include: Plant Impact; Plant Health Care; Agrisoma Biosciences; Agraquest; Aquaspy Group; Eden Research; Exosect and Tyrotech.
First published in Cleantech magazine, May 2008. Copyright Cleantech Investor 2008
California based AgraQuest is a biotechnology company which focuses on developing environmentally friendly pest management products from naturally occurring micro-organisms. Its BARITONE™ bio-insecticide, which was launched on to the US market earlier this year, is a microbial insecticide which is effective on lepidopterous insects, including loopers, armyworms and moths. It is derived from the kurstaki strain BMP 123 of the naturally occurring bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). AgraQuest also has fungicide products including SERENADE® and SONATA®. The company received the Presidential Green Chemistry Award from the US EPA for SERENADE®.
According to the founders of AgraQuest, although over 50% of human drugs are derived from natural sources like plants and micro-organisms, only 7% of all pesticides are obtained from similar sources. AgraQuest aims to develop a portfolio of natural products that will offer superior alternatives to existing synthetic chemical or genetically modified pest management products.
Agrisoma Biosciences Inc.
Vancouver, Canada based Agrisoma has developed technology which works through genetic modification to improve the yields in biofuel crops, particularly canola and soy. Agrisoma is discussed in depth by guest writer Ross McDonald - read feature.
AquaSpy Group Pty Ltd
Australia based AquaSpy, formerly known as Agrilink, has developed a range of sensors, telemetry and software systems that can reportedly deliver up to 50% savings in water use in the agriculture sector. The result is significant yield and quality increases (doubled yields have been reported in the case of cotton) as well as substantial savings in terms of maintenance and energy costs. The applications work by measuring the water content in the soil on a real time basis and relating this to what is needed at different growth stages, enabling irrigation to be optimised.
AquaSpy has also developed modified versions of its award winning technology for irrigation control applications outside of agriculture, in sectors such as golf courses and urban turf management, and is actively selling its systems on both the Australian and American continents.
The company is backed by an international syndicate of venture capital investors including WHEB Ventures of the UK, which has invested over A$5 million. Rob Wylie of WHEB Ventures believes that solutions which can help conserve water and address the threat of drought will be increasingly sought after in the future. He points out that one of the biggest drives by agricultural companies such as Monsanto is to generate seed varieties which are resistant to drought. AquaSpy’systems are being used by these companies to help them optimise their approaches.
Eden Research plc
Eden Research, listed on the UK’s PLUS market, is developing fungicides, bactericides and nematicides by working with the natural defence mechanisms of plants, in the form of terpene chemistry. Terpene chemistry is combined with a unique encapsulated delivery system which permits the terpenes to be delivered to a plant over a period of time, thereby increasing the level of protection. The encapsulation technology allows terpenes and other biologically active ingredients to be applied using conventional agricultural spraying equipment, something which was not possible previously due to their relatively low molecular weight.
Eden’s 3AEY product has been tested with positive results as a preventative for botrytis, the grey mould that can destroy grapes and other fruits as they approach maturity. It is expected to be approved and launched commercially at the end of this year, with first sales due to come through in 2009. The product will be marketed by Cheminova, a Danish company with a share of around 2% of the world plant pesticide market. Hardman & Co. Research estimates that the market for botrytis control products is worth €540 million. Beyond grapes, development work is under way at Eden on a further seven potential products. Interestingly, 3AEY has also been demonstrated to improve yields.
Exosect is a UK company which has developed a cost effective way of controlling insects without the use of insecticides. Its patented technology, based on pheromone containing electrostatic powder delivery systems, operates by an active mating disruption process where the target insect is in effect programmed to cause confusion and disrupt mating amongst its own population. This ‘active’ approach to mating disruption leads to a reduction in mating, egg laying and consequent crop damage with the benefit of very few pheromone dispensers.
Exosect has developed a range of these organic approved “Intelligent Pest Management” products. With applications for agricultural crops and stored products, they have even recently been used in the Imperial War Museum and the House of Commons for the control of clothes moth.
Exosect has received several rounds of funding led by WHEB Ventures, totalling over £5.5 million since December 2004. The company has completed field demonstration and registration trials in over 25 countries and has launched its first products in the US, South Africa and New Zealand, with launches in Europe and India expected over the next twelve months.
Plant Impact plc
David Dent considers Plant Impact, which is listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange, to be foremost among the companies pursuing what he describes as the “third way” – a combination of ‘green chemistry’ and intelligent design solutions. One of the products developed by David Marks, Chief Technical Officer at Plant Impact, Bug Oil®, is described by Dent as “a brilliantly simple product based on three essential oils working in synergy to provide a very effective preventative and curative pesticide”. Plant Impact recently signed a deal with DVA Agro GmbH for distribution of BugOil® as Bionic™, specifically for ornamental rose production in Tanzania.
Other innovative products include InCa, a plant supplement which improves crop product quality by combining a calcium salt with an auxin mimic to ensure the calcium arrives at the part of the plant which needs it most. InCa offers improved fruit quality, longer shelf life and resistance to climate stress. Plant Impact has signed a five year agreement with US based Miller Chemical & Fertilizer Corporation for the distribution of three products including InCa. Field trials on InCa, in conjunction with Miller, have demonstrated significant advantages in fruit crops, notably apples and pears. A Miller field trial, the first field trial conducted using InCa on arable crops, demonstrated a reduction in the negative effects of drought stress on soya crop by increasing the yield by 17.5%, from 2.69 tonnes/hectare to 3.16 tonnes/hectare.
According to Dent, Plant Impact’s products “owe their success more to understanding the market need and designing products from basic principles to meet that need as opposed to seeking a magic bullet molecule”.
Plant Health Care Inc.
Pittsburgh, US based Plant Health Care Group (PHC) has developed a range of natural plant products. Its most developed product is Myconate®, a “natural synthetic” compound which encourages plant growth by stimulating existing mycorrhizal fungi in the soil and helps crops cope with stressful conditions such as drought. It works on maximising yield by increasing root mass. PHC s management claims that the typical increase in yield, e.g. 7% for corn, would generate an increase in financial return to a corn farmer of around 25%. The company has a ten year marketing agreement for Myconate® with Bayer CropScience, which has exclusive rights to the product as a seed treatment on corn, soybean, cotton and sunflower. The product will be launched in conjunction with Bayer products in the 2010 season. PHC is in non exclusive discussions on commercialising Myconate® for use on other cereals, fruits and nuts. The product has been found in tests to increase yields in carrots, for example, by as much as 30%. Management expects it to have major applications in the future on cellulosic energy crops.
PHC acquired assets from NASDAQ listed Eden Bioscience Corporation last year. These assets include IP and licences, notably the Harpin technology. According to PHC, Harpin is the only known product effective on cyst nematodes, which affect over 150 million acres of soybeans in the US and South Africa. PHC is working in conjunction with Monsanto on evaluation and commercialisation of Harpin.
Plant Health Care plc listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange in 2004, raising £7 million.
TyraTech has developed a proprietary chemoreceptor screening process to identify both individual, and combinations of, natural oil compounds that bind to neurological and olfactory receptors of insects and parasites, thus killing or repelling them. The company has partnered with Syngenta Crop Protection and Kraft Foods, amongst others. It listed on the AIM Market of the London Stock Exchange last year, raising £25 million – and was valued at £110 million at the time of the placing.
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