With the Latin American market for biologicals gaining new ground, we caught up with four of the region’s bioinput leaders speaking at the World Agri-Tech South America Summit this June, to find out which homegrown and global innovations they are excited about, what potential for growth is still untapped, and how they are supporting widespread farmer adoption.

What recent breakthroughs in biopesticides, biofertilizers, and microbial inoculants do you find most exciting?

Avram Slovic

Avram Slovic, Invaio: “I am excited about the increased presence of nature-based treatments as a new generation of inputs, giving growers sustainable precision alternatives to traditional chemistries.  We are seeing an increase in registrations of biostimulants based on microbial or plant metabolites, and we can expect new biological pesticides based on peptides, RNAs, and other biomolecules very soon.  Additionally, there is a significant uptick in advanced microbial crop protection solutions such as endophytes and multiple microbes in one formulation, adding to the grower’s toolbox.”

Sebastian Popik

Sebastian Popik, Aqua Capital: “There are exciting innovations in the biological space across the board. We are seeing major advancements in stress tolerance products that can help the plant support adverse climate conditions. As climate volatility increases globally, those products provide a first line of defence against adverse weather phenomena. In addition, much of the development effort is being targeted into the biopesticide category, as chemicals are losing efficacy against major pests and as biologicals have historically presented lower efficacy of that compared with traditional solutions. Finally, the industry is also exploring new active ingredients such as RNAi, peptides and biochemicals as means to increase diversity in crop management programs.”

Vasco Masias

Vasco Masias, Grupo Alimenta: “What we find more exciting is the “explosion” of startups, research, and ongoing interest in this space.

Simbio, a Peruvian company we have invested in, has an interesting approach to help establish high microbial numbers and diversity  in an efficient way. They use different bacteria consortia that when applied in a particular sequence to the soil, produce a bio dynamic, synergistic, effect; one consortia group helping the next and so on. With this method they are building a complete functional and well stablished microbiome system in a very short time in grapes and avocado at a fraction of the cost and with amazing effects in several soil functions like fungal control, P solubilization, etc.”

Asish Batra

Asish Batra, Corteva Agriscience: “Latin America— and in particular, Brazil—is the role model for science-based regulatory frameworks that support bringing innovation to this vital agricultural region. With continued support and collaboration on the regulatory front, breakthroughs in microbial technologies, gene-editing, RNAi, peptides, and use of artificial intelligence tools can accelerate discovery and development of biological solutions. New bio-encapsulation technologies that can break down current supply chain barriers for biologicals such as limited shelf life and special handling concerns are also exciting breakthroughs.”

How are you working to increase farmer adoption for such products?

Avram Slovic, Invaio: “We work on two fronts of discovery, advanced biomolecules for crop protection and delivery platforms to enable those solutions in the field. Invaio has built a deep pipeline focused on peptides (nature’s workhorse molecules) and other biochemical platforms to launch a new generation of bioactive precision crop protection. Leveraging the most advanced developments in AI to drive discovery, we are working with growers in the United States, Europe and Brazil to show the power of our approach and demonstrate the efficacy and economic viability of our solutions.”

Sebastian Popik, Aqua Capital: “Growers are often sceptical about switching solutions that they are accustomed to for newer ones. Increasing adoption means that we have to always be close to growers, not only explain the biological solutions in more detail in terms of their regenerative benefits and their compound effect over time, but also to test on-field results. At the end of the day, the average grower will not switch to a new solution if they are less effective than existing ones, no matter how impactful in terms of sustainability they are.”

Vasco Masias, Grupo Alimenta: “Just as in the past, chemical fertilization programs were made much more precise with the aid of soil chemical analysis. Similarly, we are now witnessing more effective applications of biological products, supported by molecular analyses of the microbiome and the specific impacts these products have on it. Metagenomics and metatranscriptomics provide clear indications of how the microbiome of the soil and plants is affected following the application of a specific biological product. This helps to make the effects visible to the farmer, thereby increasing credibility and trust, which in turn facilitates adoption.”

Are biological & chemical inputs opposed to each other, or can they be used together? What emerging trends and future directions in biologicals are you seeing which should be prioritized for effective application on the farm?

Avram Slovic, Invaio: “There is no reason that biological and chemical inputs should not work in synergy to the benefit of the environment and the grower. That said, the future will put increasing importance on biological products and nature-inspired inputs to substitute traditional chemistries. The farmer’s greatest biological ally is in the nature surrounding their farm, in the form of healthy soil, natural predators, and a clean water supply.  Today, it is common to see practices that return natural biodiversity to farmlands even in large industrial production systems.  Coupling these strategies with crop inputs that are biodegradable, precision driven, and that minimize off-target impacts is resulting in high year-on-year adoption of biologicals in the market and broad consumer appeal.”

Sebastian Popik, Aqua Capital: “Chemicals and biologicals are often complementary to each other and are both integrated into what the industry calls a crop management program. One of the main concerns in the biological industry is regarding the compatibility of applications between chemicals and biologicals within the same equipment. Having compatibility between inputs not only contributes to increase the efficacy of products applied on-field, but also diminishes the number of applications, translating into less carbon emissions derived from ag machinery and soil compaction.”

Vasco Masias, Grupo Alimenta: “The correct approach to this issue is not to consider which biologicals can withstand the chemical agriculture we practice today, but rather to think of the addition of this from a systems perspective. In the past, we have always been thoughtful of the ideal combination of pH, humidity, concentration, timing, etc to ensure good absorption of chemical nutrients. Now, in the same way, we need to think of the ideal conditions to do, two things: have good nutrient absorption but care for the life of the microbiome at the same time. It’s not that difficult, we just need to care for a few more things.

The interaction between biology and chemistry represents at the same time the main challenge, the main responsibility and the main opportunity for our generation as farmers.”

Ashish Batra, Corteva Agriscience: “At Corteva, we see biological and chemical inputs working together in integrated practices and programs, and we have examples of that integrated approach in our pipeline. We are also building on the successful legacy that Stoller has established in Latin America with added innovation in the biocontrol space. We are providing products such as Utrisha™ N, which is a microbial solution that works with a variety of crops to naturally supply nitrogen from the atmosphere throughout the growing season for improved plant health and increased yield potential.”

Asish, Vasco, Sebastian and Avram will dive deeper into building the next generation of biological products at the World Agri-Tech South America Summit in Sao Paulo on June 18-19, during the sessions ‘Biologicals: Harnessing Nature to Create the Next Generation of Resilient and Profitable Products‘ & A Farmer Spotlight hosted exclusively in Spanish. Register your place to connect with them and other dynamic stakeholders pioneering and investing in sustainable practices for the South American agriculture system.