We were delighted to interview Federico Trucco, CEO of Bioceres Crop Solutions, Argentina´s leading provider of bio-based solutions for the Ag sector, to capture his entrepreneurial insight into what’s driving innovation across South American agtech.
What has made of Bioceres one of the great entrepreneurial success stories to come out of South America in recent years?
In my view, there are several elements that have contributed to the success of Bioceres. From an institutional design perspective, its collaborative or “open” approach to originating and funding new technologies represented at the time a shift from the deep-pocketed “in-house” paradigm that dominated biotech R&D almost two decades ago. Also, the fact that Bioceres’ discovery efforts were not directed at crop protection solutions, widely dominated by first generation herbicide and insect tolerance technologies, but instead at the elusive field of crop stress tolerance, allowed us to operate on a somewhat vacant space. Consequently, when we became the first company globally to achieve regulatory clearances for a drought tolerance soybean seed (a technology denominated HB4), that gave us increased visibility and created the opportunity for our company to become the first from the Latin America ag-tech industry to list its capital in the New York Stock Exchange.
How is South America applying new technology/techniques to protect future productivity? What are the unique challenges that inspire innovative agtech solutions? Can agriculture production and environmental conservation be combined?
Absolutely. Sustainable productivity requires the preservation of environmental resources. And when economic analyses can extend over a five-year period, preserving the environment is good business, even without accounting for carbon credits or other incentives designed for positive impact. We have seen this in Latin America with soil conservation practices, with no-till farming being a rarity over three decades ago and a standard practice today. In the crop nutrition space, the use of biofertilizers such as bacterial inoculants in soybean or micro-beaded NPKs are significantly reducing the need for high dose chemical nutrition to maintain high levels of productivity. Similarly, the advent of weather resilient crops such as drought tolerant seeds will further consolidate the convergence of productivity and environmental interests. In fact, it is estimated that without the technological advancements of the last half a century we would have needed more than twice the acreage we are currently farming to accomplish the grain tonnage that is presently produced. These additional acres have been preserved as forests, wetlands, grasslands and other non-agricultural uses that play key ecological services to the global environment.
What are your plans for Bioceres over the coming year, and how is the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit important to this strategy?
Our founders led the soil conservation movement in Latin America and conveyed to us a deeply felt mandate to carry the conservation torch. As an ag-tech company we are partnering with farmers that are committed to conservation practices, to empower them with a new generation of solutions designed to increase crop resiliency, minimize chemical use, and provide end-to-end traceability to large scale commodity production – we call this the HB4 Generation of farmers. We are now transitioning from the first few thousand acres of HB4 crops to hundreds of thousands in the next 12 to 18 months, and if successful, to over a million in the next crop cycle. As we do this, sharing our experience/technologies and learning from that of others is key, and to that end the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit has become a unique event, bringing together some of the most innovative projects/companies from around the world.
What area of innovation do you think could significantly add value to agriculture on a global scale? What do you see as being the next big hit?
From a productivity perspective, I believe the greatest gain would be in the transition of grain agriculture to what I call “post grain agriculture.” If you define agriculture as the management of photosynthesis to produce organic molecules, only a fraction of the organic molecules synthesized by a crop are partitioned in grains. In fact and as an example, for every ton of grain produced by a maize plant there is on average another ton of tissue in leaves and stalks and cobs and other above ground biomass that is volatilized in the form of carbon dioxide between one season and the next. If we could capture the organic molecules in this loss biomass, we can effectively double yields without incremental land use or significant scientific breakthroughs. Designing the on/off farm technologies required to re-route this loss biomass into more food, feed, energy or biomaterials is in my view the lowest hanging fruit for a quantum leap in productivity.
The Covid-19 crisis could be a catalyst for more rapid uptake of technology solutions by farmers. Which technologies are proving to be critical for farmers during this time, and what is the potential impact for safeguarding food security?
All things considered; the ag sector has been a privileged industry throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, probably one of the least disrupted. In the ag-inputs segment, client interaction has gone on-line, a process that has been progressing slowly in our industry and may due to the pandemic be accelerated in a non-reversible manner. This may provide a boost to e-commerce solutions and create additional efficiencies in retail/distribution.