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VOL. 127 | NO. 206 | Monday, October 22, 2012

 

FBSciences Blossoming With All-Natural Products

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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FBSciences of Collierville knows something about emerging rapidly.

The company, which produces products to help farm crops emerge faster and healthier, expects to blossom as global markets invest in agricultural real estate and food security.

“Agriculture is dynamic and it’s changing,” said Dr. John Bradley, vice president for technical sales support, and a West Tennessee farmer himself. “It’s not just seed, fertilizer, and chemicals anymore. You hear more about plant health now.”

Specifically, FBSciences sells a water-based, all-natural proprietary product, which is made from plants, to commercial fertilizer distributors. The product bolsters strong roots, improved germination, faster emergence and tolerance of droughts and other kinds of physical stress to the plant.

Evans Chaziya, from left, Dr. John Bradley, Brave Simpuki and Brent Akin work in a soybean field for FBSciences, a Collierville-based agricultural company that helps the Clinton Global Initiative. (Photo: Courtesy of FBSciences)

A second generation of products, which is awaiting EPA approval sometime in the next six months, will coat seeds directly. A third generation is already in the pipeline.

Dr. David Duncan, who was hired last December to bring the company to a higher level of sales, compared the product to human gene therapy.

“The new trend in modern medicine is gene therapy,” Duncan said. “That’s really what we’re doing. We’re not inserting a gene, or even a carrier, we’re inserting a natural product by coating a seed or spraying on the foliage or putting in the soil at planting. So the emerging plant’s gene switches are now turned on. That influences plant mechanisms.”

The fertilizer market, Duncan said, has been focused on “biologicals” – living organisms introduced into the soil to help plants grow well. But the problem with some of them is that the biologicals are as dependent on soil, nutrient and moisture conditions as the crops.

FBSciences are not. Bradley said the product improves emergence in all types of crops from trees to row crops to commodity crops like corn and soybean in any kind of environmental condition including droughts.

FBSciences was founded by Canadian researcher Brian Goodwin, who was working for Floratine Products Group, a maker of fertilizers for golf turf. Upon discovering the technology behind the proprietary product, he and a partner sold Floratine and incorporated FBSciences in September 2007.

The company is privately held, about half by investors in Canada.

This year’s sales totaled $7 million and Duncan said the company expects to double each year for the next few years, both from domestic and global sales. The generation one product is already in commercial markets across North America and Australia. With the generation two products, he expects to add markets in Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America.

The company is working with philanthropic projects like the Clinton Global Initiative in the African nation of Malawi to increase crop production.

Additionally, the project will help develop a commercial path for Malawian farmers so that they can begin to sustain themselves without donations in the future.

They challenged us immediately to start figuring out how we get it there without just donating it,” said Jessica Skinner, director of marketing. “Average trial results over the past two years would double the income of a Malawian farmer.”

Besides the headquarters on Collierville’s Town Square, the company has a manufacturing facility in Visalia, Calif., and a research facility at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

Bradley said that despite this year’s drought, agriculture and farm real estate are one of the few markets in which demand will always be high.

“Demand is going to be there,” said Bradley, citing increases already in China and India’s emerging middle classes. “We’ve got to create the supply. In agriculture, land has always appreciated about 5 or 6 percent. So if big investors are going to invest in something, they can count on that and it’s a lot better than a half or one or at the most two percent in the money market. That’s where they’re putting their dollars.”

But at the same time, the amount of land devoted to agriculture is not increasing, said Duncan, so demand will have to be met using what it already there. Technology, he said, makes it possible to get more crops from the same land.

Meanwhile there is also popular demand in the United States for more environmentally friendly products.

For Duncan, it means the time is ripe for the picking.

“The perfect storm has hit in the last two years,” Duncan said.

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