EBIC President: Education Crucial to Growth of Biostimulants Industry

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in AgriBusiness Global’s May/June print magazine. We now also distribute the magazine digitally for added circulation and convenience. Preview the digital edition here.

Luca Bonini knows there are short- and long-term challenges facing the biostimulants industry. As the new President of the European Biostimulants Industry Council (EBIC), he is ready to directly confront those challenges.

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Bonini is CEO and Owner of Italpollina, a founding member of EBIC and producer of biostimulants, organic fertilizers, and beneficial microbials. He was elected to the EBIC presidency because of his broad view of the industry and Italpollina’s global presence (the company, with locations in 12 countries, boasts an export rate of more than 50%). His two-year term began in November after EBIC’s General Assembly.

Luca Bonini

He assumes the role at a time when the industry is experiencing growth in different parts of the world. The global biostimulants market is expected to reach $4.14 billion by 2025 (compared with an estimated $1.74 billion in 2016), according to a report released in March 2018 by San Francisco-based Grand View Research. While Europe is the largest revenue-generating region in the industry, the Asia-Pacific and U.S. regions are experiencing impressive growth and are expected to continue to do so through 2025, the research indicated.

Bonini knows that answering industry challenges will help biostimulants overcome barriers and create an environment that will lead to the anticipated global marketshare growth.

One challenge is to adopt regulations across the globe that define “biostimulants.” Bonini says a critical step was taken in November, when the EU reached a preliminary agreement on a draft revision of a European regulation of fertilizing products. The hope is the regulation leads to the creation of an EU-wide market for biostimulants. The regulation allows for delegated acts — necessary measures for continued evolution on issues concerning the industry — and takes into account ongoing technological progress and new scientific evidence. Delegated acts are issued by the European Commission rather than adopted through a legislative process.

“For me, the most pressing issue for many countries today is how do we define biostimulants?” Bonini asks. “In Europe we have created a definition. I think it is a very good first step for Europe. Other countries can take the ideas and guidelines for establishing a common definition on biostimulants around the world.”

A standard definition is critical to industry growth, he says. “A lack of understanding of biostimulants comes from a lack of a definition. Once the definition is settled, we can go to farmers and distributors and talk about quality and differences (with other crop inputs),” Bonini says.

Aside from the definition question, Bonini expects a long-term challenge that comes from different sectors — continued acceptance of biostimulants by the scientific community, academia, and farmers as a viable complement to other crop inputs. In the past scientists and academia have not always accepted biostimulants as a crop input, almost saying they are part of a “shadow market,” he notes. For the farming community, Bonini wants to see the day when there is total acceptance of biostimulants as an “official” crop input.

To help solve these challenges, Bonini says part of his to-do list as EBIC president will be to help create boundaries between the different categories of crop inputs. This will help make it known that biostimulants are a separate crop input. “We need to be clear when a product is a biostimulant,” he says, noting that work on this has already begun. “EBIC has a code of conduct where its member companies commit to making these boundaries very clear.”

Another way that Bonini intends to confront industry challenges is a multi-pronged approach to education that includes distributors, farmers and, perhaps just as significant, agricultural students.

Distributors, he says, must know the value of biostimulants so they can offer the products to farmers. And farmers must understand that biostimulants are an effective crop input. “(Farmers) need to know a biostimulant is not just some magic formula,” Bonini says. “Biostimulants have a practical use. They provide results.

“People look at biostimulants and say they exist, but they’re not sure what they are or what they do. The first responsibility of the industry is to explain to the farmer and distributor how the products work.”

Not only does the industry need to educate the agriculture sector on what a biostimulant is but it also needs to help farmers correctly apply products for the most effective impact. One example, Bonini notes, is to educate farmers on what to expect when applying biostimulants at different times of the year. Farmers may notice differences but might not realize that it is the time of the year — not the way the product is applied.

At the university level, Bonini has several goals. One is to lobby collegiate agricultural sciences programs to include a discussion of biostimulants in classwork. “We need to alert students and professors and teach them about biostimulants,” he says.

He will also seek to ensure that any academic discussion of biostimulants is separate from other crop inputs. “There are chapters on genetics, seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides,” Bonini notes. “There should be a separate chapter on biostimulants, and not just a mention in one paragraph. Biostimulants should be taught as a must-have crop input for farmers.”

By the end of his term, Bonini wants to see an industry that manufactures products demanded by farmers as much as other crop inputs. “I want biostimulants to be considered just as important as fertilizers and seeds,” he says. This will help lead to the market growth projected for the industry, he believes.

“After my two years I want to see a bigger market for biostimulants. And as long as the market is growing, there will be room for everyone,” he says. “We always want to be in the mind of farmers when they require crop inputs. We want farmers to recognize the value of biostimulants.”