The “Intel Inside” of Biologicals

A lifelong advocate for the environment, at 25 years old, Marcus Meadows-Smith walked and hitch-hiked across Africa from Cape Town to London. Today, he also owns and operates Great Bear Vineyards, an award-winning winery in Davis, Calif.
(Marcus Meadows-Smith)

By MARGY ECKELKAMP April 7, 2022

Marcus Meadows-Smith is CEO of BioConsortia, Inc., a California-based biological R&D company with a world-class team of nearly 50 agronomists and agricultural scientists, including 15 PhD’s. Marcus is a game-changer and thought-leader within the agricultural industry, having run a $2 billion specialty & agchem business for Chemtura Corporation. He then became CEO of AgraQuest, signing the first partnership deals between a biological company and big agchem companies, including BASF, Monsanto, Pfizer and Bayer. This changed the relationship between biological companies and big agchem companies from antagonistic to collaborative. Marcus then sold AgraQuest to Bayer CropScience for about $450 million, setting off a cascade of acquisitions by big agchem companies buying up biological companies. Marcus then served as Head of Bayer Biologics. In 2014 he created BioConsortia and patented its Advanced Microbial Selection (AMS) approach to microbial product discovery of multi-tasking microbes for better drought resistance, root growth and overall plant health. In 2019 BioConsortia submitted five new microbial products for EPA. BioConsortia recently entered into a partnership with Mosaic, the $9 billion in annual sales fertilizer producer for the development of Nitrogen-fixing microbial products to increase the efficiency of fertilizers in the U.S., Canada and four Asian countries. Last month BioConsortia announced two new bionematicides coming to market, adding to its already impressive pipeline of fungicides and biostimulants.

How do you describe the current era in biologicals?
When I entered the biological space in 2008 as CEO of AgraQuest, biologicals were less than $1 billion dollars worldwide. There was an antagonistic relationship between big agchemical companies and biological companies–sustainable wasn’t even part of the vocabulary.

We managed to get people to think about integrated pest management by using biologicals and chemistry together. At AgraQuest, we signed the very first industry partnerships between a biological company and big agchem companies, like BASF, Monsanto, Pfizer and Bayer CropScience. This changed the relationship between big ag and biological companies, and kicked off a new era of collaboration and heavy investment in the biological space. Companies such as BioConsortia started to bring forward a new wave of biologicals that are superior to the existing biologicals on the market, with some as effective as conventional chemistry.

So we’ve had a rapid period of growth—today biologicals are $6 billion worldwide. People aren’t asking if it’s biological v. chemical but rather what’s best for their farming operation.

What is your company’s focus?
As an R&D company, our focus is to bring forward biological products with higher consistency and superior efficacy that good for the grower, the consumer and the planet.

The first step in our process is to operate like plant breeders–we grow seedlings for successive generation under biotic and/or abiotic stress, thereby enriching the microbiome with beneficial microbes. We then isolate and investigate the microbes helping seedlings survive and thrive. We tag thousands of microbes that show promise and take them through an extensive and rigorous set of trials in the lab, greenhouse and field trials. Our process is called Advanced Microbial Selection (AMS).

We develop products very close to the chemical efficacy. Our products range from fungicides, nematicides, biostimulants, and nitrogen fixation microbes. The formulations are as seed treatments, in-furrow and drench products. About 80% of our work is in row crops.

What is your team working on with its partnership with Mosaic related to biofertilizers and nitrogen fixation?
From what we see—nitrogen replacement products will be the biggest in the biological sector. The total fertilizer market is around a $200 billion market. Nitrogen fixation microbes could replace 25-50% of conventional nitrogen fertilizers to become a $50 to $60 billion market. This partnership means the sector is growing up, and biologicals are rapidly becoming part of the mainstream.

We have nitrogen fixing products already in development for corn and wheat, with new leads for fruit, vegetables and rice moving from greenhouse to field trials later this year.

We have worked on nitrogen fixation—and with what we’ve seen in the lab, greenhouse studies and initial field trials—we could reduce fertilizers by 50%. This will be something easy for the grower to use because it’ll be a seed treatment. The microbes colonize the root system at seed germination and continue to grow with the plant roots throughout the growing season – thereby providing nitrogen when it is needed—delivering ammonia directly to the plant for growth.

We will be bringing products that are robust, easy to use, and meet or exceed current market standards with life on the seed at 18 months and life in the can over two years. Mosaic will say exactly how and when it’s launched. Watch this space.

What do you want ag retailers to know about BioConsortia’s work in developing biofertilizers?
Think of it like “Intel Inside.” Our products will be robust and easy to use – fitting with standard agronomic practices. And with our nitrogen replacement product, the growers will be able to substantially reduce the amount of conventional fertilizer applied and hold or even increase crop yields.

I think the grower needs to forget every perception they had about biofertizers of the past. The next generation of biofertilizers that we will bring to the market in the coming years will be highly effective, consistent and easy to use. They can be moved through the regular distribution channels, and they can be stored and applied as standard fertilizers and even applied as seed treatments. They won’t need special considerations.

What about the progress you are making with bionematicide products?
We have two new bionematicides that have been very exciting with their level of consistency and efficacy throughout the development phase. They looked great in the lab, consistent in the greenhouse, and then they went into field trials and got the same consistency and efficacy and yield increase. We neutralized the yield robbing nematodes and were able to increase yields by 5 to 8 bu. in corn and 15% in wheat.

What’s valuable about these nematicides is they were effective as commercial chemical counterparts. Recently, we’ve put them on an accelerated commercialization and are hoping to get to the EPA by the end of the year with a launch in 2025.

What’s the future look like for BioConsortia?
Technologically, we will bring biologicals forward that will leap-frog the current market leading products available today. Leap frog for convenience and ease of use in the area of nitrogen-fixing microbes for corn, wheat and other major crops.

Our products will have a major impact with increased profits for growers, and benefits for consumers and the environment.

(read the original article at www.thedailyscoop.com)

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