AgriBusiness Global recently sat down with Prem Warrior, Chief Operating Officer of Valagro, a top producer of biostimulants and specialty nutrient products. Warrior, who joined Valagro in 2012, discussed the evolution of the biostimulant market and how the company’s approach has changed along with it. In addition, look for more on biostimulants in the September issue of AgriBusiness Global.
How would you describe the evolution of biostimulants in recent years in how they are being integrated in crop protection businesses?
Since the green revolution of the ’60s, due to advances in genetic technologies, we are close to achieving the limits of crop improvement in terms of the potential of seeds; even GMOs, while offering significant advances with stacking technologies and RNAi, are approaching their limits. Parallel to this, advances in synthetic chemistry, combinatorial chemistry and knowledge of specific pathways resulted in softer chemistries which have helped address chronic pest problems. However, the acute sensitivities on environmental and non-target effects of chemicals in addition to an overall desire to go natural have created a huge demand for biological products, specifically biologicals. Biostimulants, which are composed of natural extracts, ignored for a long time, have now received significant attention due to the recognition of their value as key components of an integrated crop management system. This interest is primarily due to the efforts of companies like Valagro which have championed the development of effective, credible products with stringent quality control measures and defined natural, yet prescriptive compositions with specific modes of action – comparable to agrichemicals. Biostimulants offer solutions to address hitherto unsolved problems such as abiotic stress tolerance of crops like drought, chilling and salinity as well as enhancing the nutrient use efficiency (NUE) for crops, especially when nutrients can be the most limiting factor in crop productivity. They offer the versatility the farmer needs as inputs, while providing value-added solutions that integrate with seeds and agrichemicals as well as other crop inputs including fertilizers and biopesticides.
What are the key products for Valagro in this area and what is your approach to integrating them into distribution?
Valagro’s flagship product Megafol has continued to offer unprecedented value to the growers for more than three decades. We continue to work with our key growers and distributors in scores of countries to address their unique needs for abiotic stress situations on a variety of crops and developing customized solutions. While Megafol addresses the abiotic stress of plants, Viva with its unique combination of amino acids, humic acids and specific polysaccharides enhances the rhizosphere competence of the plant, revitalizes the soil, strengthens the plant root system which translates into better fruit set, fruit size and overall fruit quality without the any chemical PGRs.
Even though our primary markets have been historically in the high cash value fruit and vegetable segments, we continue to aggressively pursue the increasing demand in the row crop market segments in our key geographies, especially North and South America, by addressing the specific needs of our customers. In fact, our market share in row crops has increased substantially in the last two to three years, indicating increased need with climate change and the consequent high demand for our products.
How are distributors’ and growers’ education about biostimulants changing? What do they know now that they didn’t know before?
Through our proprietary GeaPower technology platform, we have developed a systematic process of innovating, preserving the activity of natural extracts, ensuring the consistency of our products and finally providing unparalleled value to our customers, from the lab to the field. Valagro’s investment into defining the composition as well as the mode of action of our products, in addition to our approach of educating the end user as well as the distributor through our unique initiative Valagro Academy, has been a resounding success. The Valagro Academy initiative educates our customers on what our products are, how they work, and the best way to integrate products into a crop management system thus ensuring a good return on their investment. Valagro has pioneered this effort and we believe that brings us closer to our customers; an educated customer is our best customer. While the biostimulants do not have pesticidal attributes, a healthier plant is naturally more resistant to pests and diseases and thus needs less crop management inputs. For natural products, especially the biologicals, this approach helps us partner with the distributor/dealer team on the ground on the best ways to position and use our products, thus helping overcome one of the biggest hurdles in the adoption of biologicals worldwide. We have also developed our own process to recognize our best customers and work with them to offer customized solutions that meet their needs.
What do you think are the keys to distribution of these products?
As a biologist, my answer will always be good science leads to good products and by giving the farmer a strong ROI assures good customers. You cannot fail when you invest in good science and assure the quality and consistency of your products and most importantly, when we partner with our distributors and dealers. The key is to understand your customer and his/her needs – both from the point of view of agronomics as well as their business. Customer loyalty is key to Valagro’s success and the majority of our customers are long-term customers. It is also important to define the value proposition for our offering and to guarantee a ROI of minimally 1:3.
What other opportunities do you see for biostimulants? Also, which biostimulants are you seeing more demand for and what are the drivers?
We have enough solutions to address most crop needs including pest and disease control. In order to address the needs of a growing population with less arable land and impending climate change issues, we need to continually promote the concept of sustainable agriculture. Water and soil will continue to be the major limiting factors in crop productivity in the next decade. Improving water and nutrient use efficiency through biostimulant solutions will be critical in all geographies.
We also believe there will be an increased need to improve the soil quality including soil remediation and micronutrient deficiencies. There are already instances of crop loss due to single micronutrient deficiency in certain key agronomic parts of the world. We see opportunities for biostimulant companies to develop customized offerings that will address issues related to decreased arable land as well poor soil quality in addition to reduced water use efficiency. In addition, new generation of plant and microbial biostimulants can enhance the quality of produce – an attribute that has become increasingly important for the more discriminant global consumer. Organic agriculture also continues to grow. Precision agriculture’s better forecasting will enable us to prescribe timely, customized solutions, and we will be able to integrate biologicals and optimize their value in an integrated crop management approach. We see biostimulants and biologicals as key elements in the future where prescriptive agriculture will evolve similar to personalized medicine. At Valagro, where “science serves nature,” our vision is to bring together the best in biological sciences to the service of our customers – sustainably.