NewLeaf Symbiotics is a science-based company doing cutting-edge research and product development, using a naturally occurring family of beneficial plant bacteria. Pink pigmented facultative methylotrophs (PPFMs) are broadly distributed throughout the natural world and improve access to several essential nutrients that all plants need to grow. Recently, AgroPages interviewed Tom Laurita, CEO of NewLeaf Symbiotics, to talk about his opinions on the biopesticide industry.
North America and Europe are two major markets for biopesticide in the world, yet in recent years biopesticide has achieved substantial growth in some emerging markets like Brazil and China. How do you think the growth and development potential of biopesticide in these markets? What do you think are the main challenges to bring biopesticides to these markets?
Tom: The application of biologicals (microbials) in agriculture represents tremendous potential to enhance yields and improve plant health globally. We’re excited to see ag biological products with improved efficacy gain investor and most important, grower acceptance. This favorable market environment represents benefits for developed countries like the U.S. and EU countries, and emerging markets like China and parts of Africa. The time is right to introduce new microbial technology, such as NewLeaf Terrasym™.
Our technology complements existing crop protection chemistries and trait technology through M-trophs – beneficial microbes found abundantly in plants. Terrasym™ infuses plants with microbes that improve nutrient uptake, making crops stronger, more stable and more tolerant of stress from start to finish. Like the human microbiome, the plant microbiome holds unlimited potential and it’s one of the most complex systems on earth. Our extensive research and development lays the foundation for understanding how that works. NewLeaf searches for efficient methods to screen thousands of microbes for hundreds of effects in varied (and changing) agronomic environments.
Our immediate key to success means choosing the right discovery and product development approach, and we believe we’re on track. Early on, NewLeaf chose to develop deep knowledge of M-troph microbes, a genus of beneficial bacteria, to build our product pipeline. We’ve created our propriety Prescriptive Biologics™ Knowledgebase, which is a bioinformatics platform for predictive association of microbial genotypes and beneficial phenotypes demonstrated in the field. While advancing our first generation products to market, we’ve also built a differentiated screening platform with many products identified for the future. Thus, the challenge is to recognize the scope of complementary knowledge and its integration to deliver consistently efficacious products. Distribution channels are hungry for new technology that’s field-tested and easily adopted by growers to help boost bushels per dollar of crop inputs.
In recent years, merger and reorganization has become a hot topic in global agrichemical industry. However, how do you think the merger and reorganization of enterprises in the biopesticide and biocontrol industries?
Tom: The investment community has figured out that agriculture is one of the biggest opportunities for disruption because of its scale and importance. People all over the world are clamoring for industry to become more environmentally responsible and sustainable. Farmers want the same thing. We must do more with less. This message is changing the global agricultural crop protection industry. At NewLeaf, we view this change has a huge opportunity to advance the way growers raise crops, increase productivity and feed the world. Change is the inherent nature of agriculture.
Collaboration of enterprises and scientific breakthroughs will continue to uncover new possibilities and capabilities from the earth beneath our feet. As agribusiness continues to evolve, so will new technologies that enter the marketplace. At NewLeaf, we are mining the M-trophs in all plant life to bring new innovation to production agriculture. Our technology can consume methanol, a by-product of the plant’s metabolism, benefiting the plant without an energy cost to the plant,resulting in biofertilizer formulations to boost plant health and yields. Of the countless types of microbes that exist on plants, M-trophs are one of the few that live in a truly symbiotic relationship with the plant.
How do you think the biopesticide market of 2017 and what are your expectations for 2018?
Tom: Looking back on 2017, it’s been an exciting time for NewLeaf. We raised $30 million in Series C financing and accelerated our plans to convert proven applications of M-troph biologicals into products for large-scale agriculture. New funding also allowed us to triple the size of our R&D team, increase our facility to 16,000 sq. ft. and build a fermentation pilot facility for product development purposes. For 2018, we’re launching our Terrasym™ brand of products. The first products will be formulated for soybeans and peanuts. Terrasym™, a form of nutrient enhancement, will be applied as a seed treatment or as an in-furrow, spray. Developed to harness specific strains of M-troph bacteria, Terrasym™ infuses plants with beneficial microbes to improve nutrient uptake, making crops stronger and more stable throughout the growing season.