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.