A Smarter Way to Work

- Dan Custis

There’s a lot that goes into developing a biological product that performs in the field for the farmer and can be applied at the seed company level. First, you look at the efficacy of the biological, biostimulant or biopesticide.

We know how the microbes we use for biological products work: we know what they do to the plant, how they perform, and what changes they trigger within the plant, whether the crop is corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, rice, or other.

We take a crop-specific approach to developing our products. We use what we call the Smart Selection process for selecting characteristics we want and to determine the strain, or combination of strains, that works best on each crop.

During this process, we start by selecting characteristics in the Petri dish, and then, most importantly, we do this in the greenhouse. This process increases the likelihood the desired characteristics will translate to the field.

When we apply Smart Selection to our biologicals, we examine the microbial genome, its expression, and the plant’s performance once it is colonized by the microbe. We use the microbial genome to accelerate advanced strain selection. Only microbial strains with promising genetics are tested in the field and microbes are tested in many environments and over many seasons.

Once we establish how our biologicals perform on a crop, we examine the microbes’ disease and insect control capabilities. If the biologicals are efficacious on diseases or insects, we move them into the biopesticide realm. It’s an evolution from the root and soil inoculant to the biostimulant to the biopesticide.

It takes about four to five years to develop a commercial product. For example, we carry out two years of initial screening in-house. An independent, third-party research firm performs the field trials. We like to have field trial data for three years before we launch a product in the marketplace.

We also perform compatibility testing with the current fungicide and insecticide packages on the market. Therefore, when a customer buys our product, it will be compatible with other products on the seed, so the farmer receives the return on investment he makes in that product.

Biologicals are increasing farmers’ crop quality and yields, which creates repeat customers as farmers demand this high performance seed every year from their seed dealers. Typically, the largest ROI on a biological, biostimulant or biopesticide is back to the farmer at the end of the year, which is a good scenario because we need to keep farmers in business.