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Photo of Luca Bonini, CEO, Hello Nature
Luca Bonini, CEO, Hello-Nature

Luca Bonini, the CEO of Hello-Nature (Italpolina) is a very recognized leader in the BioAg Industry. His perspective on innovation comes from an uncommon commitment to research and the resulting new technologies for sustainable agriculture. He is associated with various national and international organizations working towards sustainability in the agriculture sector. We bring you Luca’s thoughts and ideas for the BioAg Industry in this interview. We are sure you’ll not be able to stop midway.

Q1. Agriculture in the 21st century is witnessing numerous innovations and strategic changes. What are your thoughts on the shift towards BioAgriculture and the use of BioAg inputs (specifically Bio-stimulants) and moving away from conventional chemical-based agriculture?

I think that we are at a great turning point, because for the first time in agricultural history, the change comes from the bottom of the agro-food chain, from a need of the final consumers. The reason for this need is a shift in the common consciousness: we are aware that our well-being comes from what we eat, and also that we need to protect our planet because there is no planet B! Agriculture having the most impactful activity on the eco-system, it’s logically forced to turn itself towards biosolutions such as biostimulants and other bio-ag inputs in order to assure a more sustainable future for our planet: the use of less chemical inputs, less herbicides and pesticides is essential and is the only way to reduce the negative footprint on the environment.

Q2. Bio-stimulants have gained market, though they are still not considered vital. Do you see this changing soon? What role can regulatory bodies and input associations play in bringing this change?

Unfortunately, biostimulants are still seen as snake oil products, and changing the mindset is a long process, this is why I do not expect soon a change in the way they are perceived. This said, nowadays a great work is made in the biostimulant sector from a R&D perspective and many innovations are presented every year in order to offer products ever safer and with greater performance, thus environmentally friendly. So, I think the work to be done is twofold: on one side regulatory bodies need to create a global system of standards to guarantee the safety of the biostimulant products in the eye of farmers and consumers, on the other side input associations have to raise awareness on the real benefits those solutions can bring for agriculture, for human beings, and for the planet. Only through clear and effective communication at multiple levels, using all possible tools that the mindset on biostimulants can be changed and this is still to be done. But we are on a good path!

Q3. Americas (North & South) are a big market and the shift from conventional to Bio-Agriculture is evident. How do you see Bio-stimulants fitting in the American market?

In the American market, although the use of biostimulants is getting more and more important, it is not yet generalized – from this point of view, Europe is further along on the path. Considering the size of the American market and its uniformity, it will probably be in the next few years that it'll experience real significant growth and development, while Europe is a most mature market and we do not expect an incredible rise in the use of those solutions. The American market is highly competitive and high demanding in communications and R&D investments. Companies wanting to play a significant role in it need to prove the validity and the added value of their products and formulations. At the same time, there is a high possibility of failure if what they offer is not recognized as value-added solutions for agriculture: if the only leverage to sell the product is the price, it will be placed under the “commodities” label and there is no need for such products at this moment.

Q4. Asia and Africa are largely dependent on agriculture but different agricultural demography and limited infrastructure. Are bio-stimulants relevant as well as a profitable investment for small and marginal farmers in such developing economies?

First of all, I would not consider Asia and Africa in the same way. In Asia we are experiencing a gradual organization of agricultural activities: thus mainly remaining subsistence agriculture, we can see more and more investments and more added-value crop taking importance – So I’m quite confident that in Asia the adoption of innovative solutions such as biostimulants will not take long to be developed. The challenge over there will be for production companies to make a profitable business seen that the average dimension of agricultural area for each farmer is medium or small. The logistics will need to be organized in order to reach all the small farmers, this means as widely as possible, product packaging will need to be smaller and messages on the products should be adapted to the low average educational level of most farmers: simple, direct and not too technical.

In Africa, from my point of view, we are really far away from an extensive adoption of biostimulants and other specialty products – it’s still difficult to encourage the application of basic fertilizers. Biostimulant business is really marginal and considered only for those crops with really high added value such as tropical crops, whose production is 100% for export, but really limited if compared to the rest of the world. Moreover, in Africa, the average per capita income is so low that it is very difficult for farmers to invest money in technological products with a high price.

Q5. How can bio-stimulants be used to give the best returns, for instance, right climatic conditions, equipment or technology support, or any other specific requirement for use of these products?

To be honest, biostimulants work better when there is stress: so the more stress is present during the crop cycle, the more this kind of product is effective on the crop. In a situation of perfect climatic conditions, perfect soil conditions, and balanced fertilization, the benefits the biostimulant can bring are really limited. This is because of the very nature of these products, they are meant to prevent or cure stress, above all abiotic stresses. The issue about application lies in the compatibility with other formulations such as herbicides, pesticides, and other chemical inputs because the biostimulant to be financially attractive for farmers needs to be applied in combination. Farmers will never apply a biostimulant alone unless a big problem is hitting the plants. So at this moment, I do not believe that new technologies for a better application are the solution, nor precision agriculture is, in my opinion, relevant because doses are already so low that applying low doses on a limited number of plants is not today financially viable. The key for future extensive adoption of biostimulants is in their formulation and chemical compatibility, and precisely in a formulation able to be effective when applied together with other products.

Q6. Hello-Nature (Italpollina) is now a force to reckon with in the Americas too, has the US move played a role in this success? What are your plans to make it truly global?

It’s thanks to our presence in the US if HELLO NATURE (Italpollina) is now recognized as a global leader of the sector. If we had chosen to manage our business only from a European headquarter, probably we would have never reached the same success we are experiencing today. I have to say that anyway this evolution is strictly linked to strong investments the company has made in production and R&D in the US, not only to our commercial business there. The US is perceived as an innovative and high-tech country, it’s the largest agriculture market in the world so obviously, the potential is huge, and being successfully present there has helped our development also in other countries. Now our most important goal is to strengthen our position where we are already present and organize the company in a more managerial way. Our growth from a small family business to a global leader has been fast, now the organization has to be adapted to our actual size in order to reach our future goals. Last but not least our investments in R&D&I are ongoing, because thanks to that, we offer now a complete range of innovative formulas and technologies, such as TRAINER and PSPs that did not exist 10 years ago. Not to forget that 10 years ago our biostimulant range was made mostly of microbials, our choice was then to diversify our portfolio, to offer something different from competitors and not being a simple “blender” like most of the companies present in the sector. R&D discoveries will also lead to future launches of groundbreaking technologies and cutting-edge solutions.

Q7. What do you think, is unique about BAW Congress 2021, and what makes it important for Global BioAg Industry, to have “an event for the industry by the industry”?

To me, the main advantage of this type of events is having a moment where those who are in the business, who have a strong knowledge of the market gather together to share opinions, ideas, data, and perspectives in order to evaluate ongoing activities and set future challenges for the company and for the sector. It’s vital to stay updated on market trends, (as well as on new findings, but there are other occasions for this), so having an event completely dedicated to the industry insights is very important and can be interesting for companies such as ours, who produce all their products and who need a global view on the market trends and objectives.

To know more about Luca Bonini, visit Speakers | BioAg World. Luca will be speaking at BAW Congress 2021 (March 15-17, 2021) and will provide insights into BioAg Industry. Join us to listen to him and many more at the congress. BioAg World Congress | Tickets.

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Updated: Feb 27, 2021

GeoLife is an agri-input company from India growing at a fast pace and expanding globally. India has observed significant growth in agricultural production and has come up as the largest producer and exporter of various commodities. It has various advantages when it comes to agriculture, different climatic zones, abundant fertile land, and others. In our interaction with the CEO of GeoLife, we touched upon different aspects of Indian Agriculture and their learning in the journey of becoming food surplus from food scarce.

Q1. Geolife is a fast-growing global agri-input company from India. It is aggressively working towards spreading its wings in foreign lands. What opportunities do you see outside India and which are the prime locations?

A – This is very true, that Global Agri Communities are positively eyeing towards Sustainable Agri Solutions that too primarily for various Abiotic Stresses and Physiological challenges. We at Geolife have the expertise to understand the pulse and prepare the scientific solutions for these. As the global movement towards Healthy Food, through Healthy Nutrition to Soil and Crop increases, we will be happily spearheading our wings across.

Prime locations are:-

1. Latin America

2. South East Asia

3. Oceanian countries

4. Parts of Europe

5. Middle East

Q2. India has been a breeding ground for so many agricultural innovations and inventions. With vast agro diversity, it has the potential to be a food supplier for the world. How can this potential be harnessed?

A- True, India believes Agriculture is not only a profession rather it is a religion too. The ground for scientific looks is very fertile in India. It has the capacity to feed the world for which we need to aim for Optimum Yield Per Field; with new innovations in Agri inputs and thoughtful adoptions, we can achieve this. Scientific Products which will not only increase the yield but also enrich the soil for the next cropping season are of great value to harness the further potential and harvest the best. Organic Agriculture is a section where our nation can lead the world. India’s agroecology supports this.

Indian Hon’ble Prime Minister professes about farming with nature as Indian Agri Diversity demands it; India has proven history for BioAgriculture, which now need to be defined in the frame of Global need.

Q3. African agriculture is in its developing phase. What learnings of agriculture in general and specifically BioAgriculture from Indian Agriculture could be transmitted to Africa?

A - -Africa is still a developing country and mostly importers of chemical and commodity products with very strict regulations for Biopesticides and Biofertilizers. If there is a relaxation in regulations and payment security then there is the scope of the Bio agriculture market to be transmitted to Africa. The key learnings from Indian Agriculture might be how to re-explore our natural resources and in-house trajectory for the benefit of the farming community and self-branding.

Q4. Developing countries like India have low-cost labor in abundance. How can these countries take a lead in contributing to food security sustainably?

A - Labor is one of the most important components out of four factors of agriculture production (Land, labor, capital, and knowledge). As a country moves from underdeveloped, to developing and to a developed country, labor starts moving from the agriculture sector as opportunities increases in high productivity sectors, That’s also happening in India. Labor cost in India was comparatively low, which has increased significantly during the last decade.

India certainly has full proof potential to lead for sustainable food security by virtue of fast technology adoptions, abundant availability of natural resources, diverse agro-climatologies, etc.

Q5. What possibilities of partnerships and joint ventures would you like to explore in BioAg World Congress?

A – BioAg World Congress provides a wider platform to explore, understand and associate with like-minded business houses. Geolife as a group of innovative techno-know-hows in Plant Nutrition and BioAg would look for associations in overseas markets.

GeoLife is a supporter and sponsor of BioAg World Congress 2021, an event for the industry by the industry. It is a rare opportunity to learn about the opportunities and challenges to BioAg Industry and network with BioAg Industry leaders. Come join us!

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Probelte is a five-decade old company established to serve Agricultural hubs in Europe and therefore in the world. The company has its own microbiology, entomology, fermentation, and GLP lab. to start the study of microorganisms and in 2002, the company grounded its experimental microbiology plant to investigate the possibilities of more natural and environmentally friendly solutions. It has 90 different strains of microorganisms and various microbial product patents to its credit. Probelte is preparing to launch more than 8 new products in 2021.

Below is our conversation with Arturo, a very dynamic professional passionate about bioag. He talked in detail about company goals, BioAg Market in Spain, growth opportunities, and lots more.

1- PROBELTE is a fast-growing agrobiotechnology company from Spain. It is aggressively working towards spreading its wings in foreign lands. What opportunities do you see outside Spain and which are the prime locations?

Probelte is a company that throughout its history and its innovative DNA has developed a value proposition that we can be considered cutting-edge in its sector. The markets, we believe, our proposal has the most value for our clients are those with greater demand for the cultivated food in both quality and sustainability. Helping to grow very profitably to achieve the highest quality of fruits and vegetables for our customers is our obsession.

Therefore, the North American markets (United States, Mexico), the European markets such as Italy and France and the North African markets such as Morocco and Egypt that will be the pantry of Europe are ours and our reality.

We have subsidiaries and teams working in these countries with the intention of gradually developing comprehensive solutions that combine preventive and palliative solutions.

2- Spain has been a breeding ground for so many agricultural innovations and inventions. How can this potential be replicated in other geographical areas?

Spain is one of the great hubs of European agriculture and therefore worldwide. The luck of being in Spain and more so in the Murcia region is that it contains a unique variety of crops, types of land, and climatic zones. This variety places great demands on the quality of the products developed as well as the necessary scientific support. The European regulatory environment also places a very high demand on the development of efficient, profitable, and environmentally friendly products. The need to exceed these requirements puts Probelte at a level that allows it to approach with a very modern and competitive value proposition other markets that are very demanding or have European regulation as a reference.

3- Europe environmental policies are challenging farm production. What learnings of agriculture in general and specifically Biostimulants and Biocontrol from Europe agriculture could be transmitted to US?

I sincerely believe that learning should be mutual. I believe the European Community demands regarding sustainability, respect for the environment, and consideration of the impact on climate change and biological diversity are essential for the future of agriculture and I would say that of the future of the next generations of humanity.

It is the right path without a doubt and all the agricultural areas of the world must begin this journey. The United States must begin to walk in this direction with more determination both at the regulatory and administrative level and at the attitude of the industry at all levels as a sustainable growth strategy for the future.

However, the regulatory environment and administrative management in Europe are a real impediment to innovation and change in this direction. In this sense, I believe that the United States is much more suitable, and a promoter of innovation needed for that change.

For this reason, I believe that European companies should forge alliances with North American companies to put the United States at the forefront of agricultural innovation.

In this sense, I believe that Europe must learn from how it should regulate itself to promote innovation and change.

4- South European countries like Spain has an intensive crop production model in well-know farmlands such as Almeria or Murcia. How can these innovative growing models sustain its leadership in a global market?

Almeria and Murcia are undoubtedly in a very intense process of innovation and not only to adapt agricultural policies to the requirements of sustainability and respect for the environment by their own conviction and by the demands of the central and northern European markets. New digital technologies are also being introduced for such holistic and time management of agriculture.

5- PROBELTE has shown a disruptive approach to customers by the partnership in services digitalization and fast track technology adoption by Growers. What has been the major challenge so far, and which crops accepted earlier in this transformation?

We at Probelte view the management of agriculture in a similar way to how human health is managed. The management of agriculture should be seen as a journey in which the environment must be cared for continuously over time, just as human health must be cared for almost from the moment it is born.

The key of this strategy is to see this management as a continuum in which environmentally friendly preventive solutions are combined with palliative solutions to combat pathologies that must be treated more and more specifically without side effects.

Preventive solutions must combine natural biological and nutritional solutions. The palliatives can be biological or chemical but very specific to attack the plague or specific disease that has not been prevented.

The effectiveness of these ongoing agriculture management strategies is improved in efficiency and prevention with digital technologies and the data accumulated on this journey to create preventive action models. Human health and the health of the earth are closely related and will be managed in the future in a very similar way.

6- What possibilities of partnerships and joint ventures would you like to explore in BioAg World Congress?

The United States is a huge market and with very different climatic zones. Although, as I have already said, the enormous luxury that Probelte has of having its center in Spain gives it a very broad knowledge of crops in different environments, all markets have their peculiarities.

That is the reason why we are looking for partners in the American market who share a similar vision of the future of agriculture and strategies to develop innovative value propositions combining biotechnological solutions and who understand the value of digital technologies in profitability and growth potential. And we are looking for companies of a similar size to ours because they will better understand the challenges and importance of this type of project.

Arturo Lizón is an International Executive with more than 30 years of experience creating, developing, and transforming companies leveraging state-of-the-art digital technology. He has his Ph.D. in Solid State and Computational Physics from UAM – Madrid Spain. At top managerial positions, he has defined and implemented new business model transformations, operational and organizational restructuring, and successful internationalization strategies of retail and B2B companies. As an experienced turnaround executive and co-founder of several successful start-ups, he is used to working with company owners and international investors in creating the conditions and leading the implementation of new business realities.

More about Probelte:

Probelte's management team is made up of a combination of highly experienced profiles from the agricultural industry with executives specializing in the transformation of companies through the development of knowledge, data, and digital technology. This vision that prevention is better than cure and that the land, soil, and crop management is a continuous journey through time is reaching this industry with great force and we, as Probelte, want to be part of the leaders of that change. Health does not only refer to the health of the environment, soil, and crop but we extend it to human health. It is not possible to differentiate them, they are closely related and are part of the same thing. The strategies to improve human health are closely related to the management strategies of the soil and how crops are cultivated. The same applies to soil health, crop management, and agriculture. The future of agriculture management is a combination of both preventive and palliative strategies to achieve the best results, with the highest profitability and sustainability, and respect for the environment.

What we contribute to this industry in a deep experience in the use of digital technology to incorporate in a profitable way reducing transaction costs all the variables that affect the correct management of a preventive and palliative proposal, that is, the information of the environment (time, actions), the local characteristics of the land, the specific cultivation and the proposed solutions, as well as information on past actions and interventions.

The optimal exploitation of all this information to achieve the best yield and sustainability can only be achieved using digital technology to analyze, propose and manage the treatment or solution.

The European Commission, through the new CAP (common agricultural policy), is defining a new framework for action and management of agriculture that is aligned with Probelte's strategy. Its “Farm-to-Fork” program basically pursues the same objectives as the “Soil-to-Health” strategy the Probelte, and human health is closely related to the health of the soil, agriculture, and the way crops are managed. This vision is what we want to export to our markets.

The company's development project in the United States is the company's strongest bet for the coming years. Undoubtedly, its geographical area is most oriented to business and its level of demand represents a challenge that is very useful in the business evolution and transformation processes of companies. Furthermore, the value proposition that Probelte is developing is very appropriate for the current situation and regulatory environment in the United States. The attitude of the agricultural and non-agricultural entrepreneurs to incorporate new solutions to improve is one of the great opportunities for the company compared to other geographical areas of the world.

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