Dan Custis CEO and Co-Founder, ABM

As CEO, Dan Custis oversees all company financial, marketing and sales operations, as well as new product development. Custis’ agricultural expertise is centered in the fungicide and insecticide seed treatment and legume inoculant markets. He has worked for and held various positions with national and multinational companies. Custis received his Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Eastern Kentucky University and his master’s in business with a focus on small business development and startups from Regent University.

When I think about the biological space as a whole, I see tremendous potential for the industry. There’s the increased need for higher yields to meet food demand. The regulatory environment is more favorable to companies wanting to invest in biological products. Consumers are demanding higher quality organic produce. And public perception is that biologicals are generally better. So, you see, the stars are aligning for those of us in this space.
But before we can gaze at the magnificent constellation that has taken shape, there’s work to be done … for those stars can easily extinguish. Biologicals are living organisms, and when applied to the seed, they create synergies that deliver additional benefits to the plant as it grows. Traditionally, this is where many get hung up — in being able to explain what the benefits are, how they work, and when and where they don’t.
In the past five to 10 years, the advancement of the science, tools and technologies at our fingertips has significantly magnified our understanding of how these living organisms interact with the plant and their environment. We know more and can access more than ever before.
As a company dedicated to biologicals, we (and I know others have as well) have invested millions of dollars into research and development. This investment has deepened our knowledge and understanding of the science behind biologicals, and as such allows us to ensure a product’s benefits to the customer and end user. Some of these benefits include an overall healthier plant, increased photosynthesis, increased nutrient uptake, increased stress tolerance and an overall larger root mass.
But because this is such a hot area with so much growth potential, there are a lot of popup companies looking to get in on the action. MarketsandMarkets reports a compound annual growth rate of 13 percent from 2014 to 2019, which means that come 2019, the biological seed treatment market will be worth an estimated $560 million. While the numbers vary from report to report, one thing is consistent — growth and opportunity.
It’s great to see so many new ideas and so much energy being invested into biologicals. I firmly believe that competition leads to innovation, crushes complacency and leads to more choice for customers. However, I caution and encourage these newcomers to really understand the science and the ins and outs of a product before you bring it onto the market.
We’ve had to fight the old “snake oil” moniker that haunts us from the old days, and we’ve finally been able to break that notion. But one product that fails to deliver on its promise, not only hurts the individual company, but all those involved in the biological space — we all rise with the tide and sink with the tide. Don’t sacrifice time and hard work just to get product on the market, only to have a mishap. While that mishap might be your own, it affects all of us.
In recent years, biological companies have set a high standard and leaders continue to ratchet the bar up with the goal of differentiating themselves amongst the competition. It’s this competitive spirit that accelerates continued innovation and discovery, pushing the bounds and beating expectations.
Use the science to build integrity. I challenge you to build the integrity of your company. Build the integrity of your product. Build the integrity of your people. And build the integrity of the biological space as a whole. Then, and only, then will we, as an industry, reach our maximum potential and really shine bright.