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‘Post-chemical world’ takes shape as agribusiness goes green

Agribusiness is increasingly turning to natural and sustainable alternatives to chemicals as consumers rebuff genetically modified foods and concerns grow over Big Ag’s role in climate change.

At the heart of the trend are innovations that harness beneficial microorganisms in the soil, including seed-coatings of naturally occurring bacteria and fungi that can do the same work as traditional chemicals, from warding off pests to helping plants flourish, according to a global patent study by research firm GreyB Services.

“Both entrepreneurs and investors are saying, ‘Hey, the writing is on the wall, we’re entering a post-chemical world,’” said Rob LeClerc, chief executive officer of AgFunder, an online venture-capital platform.

“The seed companies who have billions in market cap are like ‘We need to do something,’ and everyone recognizes the opportunity.”

The global fertilizer and pesticide market is around $240 billion, and grows 2% to 3% a year, according to Ben Belldegrun, a managing partner at Pontifax AgTech, a company that invests in food and agriculture technology.

While so-called biologicals including biofertilizers, biopesticides and biostimulants are just 2% of that market, those have been growing closer to 15% a year for the past five years, Belldegrun said.

Companies like BASF SE, Bayer and Syngenta AG have patents on products using naturally-occurring microbes to help crops flourish even when there is low water availability, according to GreyB’s analysis. The microbes can act as catalysts to encourage growth. Biological-based fungicides and insecticides can also help reduce crop damage from insects, slugs and fungi.

Other emerging techniques that could boost yields while helping farmers use less chemicals is artificial intelligence, which is being used to analyze which seeds and crops can yield the most based on changing soil conditions and weather patterns on a farm. The promise of quantum computers would let companies use massive computing power to develop and analyze new seeds and fertilizers.

This article was written by Lydia Mulvany and Susan Decker. It appeared first on the Bloomberg Terminal. Read the full article here

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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