AgriBusiness Global recently caught up with Giuseppe Natale, Chief Executive of Valagro SpA, based in Atessa, Italy, on the rapidly evolving biostimulant environment. Natale will speak at the debut AgriBusiness Global Biostimulant CommerceCon, July 30-31, in Phoenix, Arizona. Register now.
ABG: What, to you, is most interesting about how the biostimulant environment has evolved in the past few years?
Over the years there has been an exponential increase in scientific research that has contributed to strengthen the credibility of the entire industry. This has indirectly benefited the products’ value proposition, supporting a differentiation in the market. We have just started. I believe that a lot still has to be done to further encourage the adoption of biostimulant products by farmers, primarily by way of creating a regulatory structure that is more appropriate to the characteristics of the products, and with full cooperation among universities, extension services, manufacturers, and authorities.
ABG: How have you seen attitudes in Spain and France change toward biostimulant adoption?
The trend is surely positive. Over recent years, these countries have witnessed the growth of biostimulants from “nice-to-have” products to increasingly solutions demanded by the market, because they can really support a maximum vegetable yield while respecting the environment fully.
The biostimulants market is growing strongly. Different factors influence such a trend both globally and in countries like Spain and France. On one hand, the world of consumers demands healthy, quality, and sustainably made food products. On the other hand, the world of producers is seeking innovative inputs that are more sustainable and capable of improving quality and productivity of crops, thus guaranteeing a higher return of investment. Today’s challenge is about producing more and better. Biostimulants, thanks to their specific features, represent ever more a concrete, sustainable solution. We should not forget that $200 billion in agricultural commodities are lost every year as a consequence of abiotic stress. This is where biostimulants can provide an effective response.
ABG: What is the biggest factor in convincing growers of the value and effectiveness of biostimulants?
The biggest factor is the rigorous scientific approach though which companies can develop and validate biostimulants’ effects. This is what allows us to distinguish effective plant biostimulants from “snake oil” products in the market. Biostimulants form the bridge between biologicals and chemicals and often explain why the biologicals work. The problems that biostimulants address effectively are, in fact, some of the most urgent needs in sustainable agriculture.
Today the scientific community seems really committed to understand why and how biostimulants work. Valagro’s global R&D team, in partnership with researchers from Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, have been conducting pioneering work in elucidating the mechanisms of plant biostimulants. In an article published by Frontiers in Plant Science, they proposed a highly differentiated plant biostimulant development and production platform which involves a combination of technology, processes and know-how. This platform, GeaPower™ uses chemistry, biology and “omic” sciences to investigate and understand the specific mode(s) of action of bioactive ingredients, to predict and characterize the function of natural compounds of biostimulants. This systematic approach allows Valagro to discover, validate new product candidates, and develop commercially viable products, thus expanding the uses of existing products to meet the challenging needs of agriculture.
ABG: What role do you see regulatory playing in this market going forward? Are biostimulants changing regulatory criteria?
Today in Europe, U.S., and elsewhere there is no clear regulation of plant biostimulants. This lack of regulation means that the sector is hampered with questions on what the products can really do, their safety, and a clear market identity. The role of regulatory is crucial to give the producer, consumer, and authorities certainity and clarity, and thankfully the regulatory context is evolving. In Europe the new Fertilising Products regulation is proceeding through the final trilogue stage of text refinement. That regulation contains a new Plant Biostimulant category (both substance- and microbial-based) and will create for the first time a harmonized European Plant Biostimulant market. Furthermore, the Plant Protection regulation is being revised to establish a clearer border between the new Plant Biostimulants and Plant Protection products. In the U.S., the latest Farm Bill has included Plant Biostimulants as a proposed new category of product. We expect exciting times ahead in the U.S.
ABG: What hurdles do we have yet to overcome in biostimulant distribution and what is Valagro’s approach?
Generally speaking, distribution has always been open to biostimulants. Yet such an openness has always been linked to the profit margin provided by these products, rather than their “technical” side. Such a merely economic approach sets the premise for one of the worst obstacles: the proliferation of products of uncertain quality and origin that are not supported by a rigorous scientific research and development approach. These products guarantee high profit margins for the distributor but often disappoint the final consumer, who can easily lose interest in biostimulants outright.
Conversely, Valagro has always cared for choosing competent and professional partners, constantly seeking cooperation with those who have a valid technical approach, capable of recognizing the value of a product and the innovation behind it. Consequently, Valagro has focused only on these partners and has invested time and resources in educating and supporting their field technicians (e.g. Valagro Academy). The goal is to support and help them in their daily work of positioning and selling these products within the distributor’s customer base.