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A Conversation with Kevin Helash, CEO-MBII

Photo of Kevin Helash, Marrone Bio logo, BAW logo
Kevin Helash, CEO, Marrone Bio Innovations

Marrone Bio Innovations Inc. is an international leader in providing growers with sustainable bioprotection and plant health solutions to support global agricultural needs. It provides biological based solutions for agricultural crops, turf protection, seed treatment, plant health, and waterway systems. As a leader in alternatives to conventional pesticides, MBII has a proven go-to-market strategy and remains on the cutting edge of developing the types of biological products in which today’s farmers are increasingly interested. We recently interviewed Kevin Helash, CEO of MBII, and talked about different aspects of the BioAg industry and MBII’s future plans.

Enjoy the read!

Q1. Biologicals are gaining farmers’ interest and also market. Though their need seems to be obvious, why is it taking so long for farmers to use and become comfortable with biologicals?

Biologicals are getting traction in all geographies. Recent market research shows double-digit growth for biologicals vs. low single-digit growth for conventional chemistry. However, the whole biological market is still a small fraction of the conventional market and the growth potential is important.

Biologicals will become mainstream if the industry is able to convince growers that biologicals achieved these three characteristics: efficacy, consistency, and affordability. Growers need solutions that bring benefits that solve their needs, including better pest control. Our industry needs to prove to growers, through in-field demonstrations, that biologicals are a key component of their pest programs, bringing additional control, yield, and profits.

Some of the biological solutions in the marketplace have shown excellent efficiency against a broad spectrum of pests, year after year, and field after field. MBI is particularly focused on proving high levels of return on investment when promoting its solutions to growers and agronomists.

Q2. MBI has got over 400 patents (including in process). What are the next upcoming innovative products and farmers should get ready for?

I am delighted to share with you the strong pipeline of solutions we are planning to launch in the short and long term. I expect incremental revenues of ~50M in the next five years and more than 100M in 2030 from our pipeline.

Seed and soil products: Several projects are ongoing; the majority are targeted at row crops (corn, soy, rice, and cereals) and high-value crops (Tree nuts, grapes, leafy vegetables) and expand from North America to European Union. A key project is based on our Burkholderia rinojensis microbial strain and will bring an enhanced version of our current seed treatment and soil applied products to increase pest control at lower rates.

Bio-Protection Products: These new solutions will help us expand beyond our current footprint and have a deeper penetration in the marketplace. I am happy to announce that MBI is planning to launch ReyZox™, one of the first pre-mix products that combine biologicals and traditional chemistry. In addition, we are making very good progress towards the development of our first herbicide, MBI-015.

Plant health products: We continue to focus on addressing key issues important to growers, such as zinc deficiency in corn and soy in LATAM, iron deficiency in EU, and improving conditions for better yields in row crops in North America. For example, Emergen™ and Pacesetter® are two products we’ll be launching soon in the U.S. Midwest to help increase yield and achieve a better return on investments.

This exciting pipeline is the result of our intense screening of more than 18,000 micro-organisms, robust patent position of more than 400 issued and pending patents worldwide as well as more than 3,000 trials performed in 23 countries through 2020.

Q3. MBI has seen tremendous growth. What expert advice would you like to give to new companies entering the market and striving to contribute to the BioAg Industry?

I’ll share a few ingredients that are essential to the success of any company, and MBI has consistently focussed on each of these year after year:

Listen to your customers: This seems obvious, but it takes a lot of leadership and discipline to achieve excellence here. It all starts and ends with listening to growers, understanding their pain points, building solutions that address their needs, and seeking in-field feedback to enhance the customer experience.

Build an A-class team: Leaders need to make sure they hire, motivate and retain the best of the best in the industry. Also equally important is to have a team that believes in the mission of the company and breathes its values. It is very hard to beat a team that listens to customers, works as one, and is dedicated to the commonly agreed-upon mission. I am very proud of the team we assembled at MBI.

Lead, do not follow: It is easy to get distracted in any industry by all the noise that we can hear around us. The focus should be on the long-term ambition and goals, not on the short-term variations that happen in the marketplace every season. MBI continues to invest resources in rapidly growing market segments as well as moon-shot types of projects that have the potential to transform the company and reshape our industry.

Q4. What steps should be taken to promote biologicals and make them vastly adopted to make agriculture sustainable?

Biologicals have obviously a great fit in the core organic market, however, I believe they are also important solutions to add to growers’ toolkit in non-organic settings. Today, most stakeholders talk about biologicals as a different category to traditional chemistry. I can see a day when growers, agronomists, and researchers will not differentiate between biologicals and other products; biologicals will be mainstream and part of every grower’s program.

MBI launched a couple of years ago its BioUnite™ concept, which is harnessing the power of biology with the performance of chemistry. We invested heavily in field development trials and large-scale grower demonstrations, to prove that the combination of our biological products with some of the leading chemistries allows growers to achieve higher yields and better return on investments. These combinations can either be tank-mixes, pre-mixes, and rotations in the fields and are proven recipes for success.

Q5. BioAg World Congress is an event by the industry for the industry. What brings MBI to BAW? How do you see your BAW participation befitting your growth?

MBI is always eager to participate in events that promote an exchange of ideas in the biological world and beyond. BAW is an excellent platform to discuss new innovations and trends with other leaders and shape our industry in the long term.

In addition, MBI is always seeking new growth opportunities, either through partnerships or M&A. The BioAg World Congress is an excellent platform to promote our innovative solutions and potentially find partners who could help us accelerate the implementation of these solutions, expand them beyond our original plan and scale them more rapidly in other market segments and geographies. I also expect some of the participants to have complementary technologies to MBI’s and our discussions could lead to the design of better solutions that fit our customers’ needs.

Marrone Bio Innovation Inc. is a BioAg World Congress 2021 supporter and sponsor. Keith Pitts, Chief Sustainability Officer, Sr. VP of Regulatory and Government Affairs will be presenting a talk at the congress. Join us at BAW Congress 2021 to learn more from these industry leaders and gain insights into the BioAg Industry. See you at the Congress!

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