“We see numerous opportunities for using the unique strengths of CropCoat to complement other biological and conventional pesticides. CropCoat is more than a pesticide, though; it is a tool that allows us to control what happens at the plant surface. Although our initial efforts have focused on pest and disease control, other issues faced by growers and agricultural commodity producers can be addressed by this tool as well,” said Jean Pougnier, CEO of Crop Enhancement in a recent interview with AgroPages. He also discusses Crop Enhancement’s financing situation, the unique properties of its CropCoat® product, the company’s priority markets and strategic partnerships, as well as future development plans.
Could you briefly introduce Crop Enhancement and the team’s background?
Crop Enhancement is a venture-backed agriculture technology corporation based in San Jose, California. The company has developed sustainable agrochemical pest- and disease-control products that can reduce and complement the use of synthetic pesticides, allowing farmers around the world to respond to increasing demands for sustainably produced foods.
Crop Enhancement’s CEO, Jean Pougnier, has spent more than 35 years with leading agrochemical companies such as DuPont, FMC, and Amvac, where he was responsible for evaluating new technologies. He was attracted to Crop Enhancement’s coating concept as something unique in the marketplace. The company’s CTO, Damian Hajduk, previously led the research activities of Eatsa, a developer and operator of automated restaurants; Landec, a manufacturer of packaged vegetables and salads for retail and food service, novel seed treatments for agriculture, and biopolymers for medical applications; and the performance materials division of Symyx Technologies, a pioneer in high-throughput research for life-science product development.
What is the appeal of Crop Enhancement to investors? What is the current financing situation? How have these funds been applied to the company’s core mission?
The company’s efforts over the past few years focused on creating the CropCoat® line of agricultural coatings, demonstrating field performance in a limited number of high-value crops, and initiating US registration. Investors have responded positively to these results, allowing Crop Enhancement to complete an $8.5M Series B funding round late last year. With these funds, the company is expanding the field program to a broader range of fruits and vegetables in the US, Europe, and Latin America, completing its registration in the US while initiating registrations in these other areas.
Could you introduce Crop Enhancement’s CropCoat product and special features, and its innovation and application value?
Crop Enhancement’s products (which are sold under the CropCoat brand) are based on botanical extracts that form durable, biodegradable coatings on plant surfaces. These coatings do not kill pests directly; instead, they camouflage plants from pests. Insects do not recognize coated surfaces as desirable locations for feeding or reproduction, and if they ultimately choose to feed on the plant, many species consume the coating as well, which displaces nutrition from their diets. The malnutrition and starvation that results causes the pest population to collapse. These effects last until the coating degrades, which occurs over several weeks. Field studies show that a single application provides residual control for up to six weeks.
In developing CropCoat, the company drew upon experience from industries in which coatings are widely used, such as paints, adhesives, inks, personal care, and medicine. Crop Enhancement saw that the technical approaches used in these fields could be modified for use in agriculture, once plant biology, pest biology, and grower practices were taken into account. Our products are based on materials that are already manufactured at scale for other purposes, and that have already received some level of regulatory review. CropCoat can be used in both conventional and biological programs, either as a standalone product or in ‘tank mixes’ with other products.
Growers using conventional synthetic pesticides are faced with resistance issues that result from frequent application. CropCoat provides these growers with a new rotational option, allowing them to reserve conventional products for high pest-pressure situations where the acute toxicity of synthetics is particularly helpful.
Growers using biological control have fewer options for pest control since they cannot employ products that kill beneficial organisms. Coatings such as CropCoat have little effect on beneficials since they do not interfere with predator-pest contact, only with pest-plant contact. CropCoat applications can be used in combination with other biocontrol strategies to limit growth of the pest population to well below damaging levels, while preserving a very limited number of pests as a food source for the beneficial population.
What market regions is Crop Enhancement focusing on now? What are your go-to-market initiatives and the broadening of IP portfolio plan of Crop Enhancement?
At this stage of our development, our priority markets are the US, Europe, Brazil, and Central America. We have field trials on various crops in all those markets and have testing agreements with a number of potential partners. We have nonetheless a number of activities in emerging markets such as Africa and Southeast Asia, notably on cacao where our product has shown great performance. We will enter those markets through partners that have the relevant expertise and market position that will make them successful.
We have received a number of patents for our technology and are working on additional patent filings. We are also expanding our IP portfolio through ongoing product research and development, and envision new applications for our technology.
We see numerous opportunities for using the unique strengths of CropCoat to complement other biological and conventional pesticides. CropCoat is more than a pesticide, though; it is a tool that allows us to control what happens at the plant surface. Although our initial efforts have focused on pest and disease control, other issues faced by growers and agricultural commodity producers can be addressed by this tool as well. Examples include micronutrient deficiencies; abiotic stresses due to drought, heat, or high light levels; and even postharvest loss of crop quality.
Could you talk about your company’s strategic partnership with agrochemical companies and regional distributors worldwide? What are Crop Enhancement’s requirements in choosing partners?
We are working with a number of the leading companies in the industry. We are very fortunate to have executed about 15 testing agreements with agrochemical companies and distributors. We work very closely with them so that they fully understand how to use our product to derive the best performance. We are looking for partners that are either leaders in the industry who would be able to sell our product globally, or who have a strong position in a country or in some specific market segments such nursery and ornamentals, consumer product or post-harvest.
What’s the overall development planning of your company over the next 3-5 years?
We expect to receive our first registration in the US in 2022. Our main focus is to have a successful launch in the very important US market, working with one or several partners. The other critical activities are to obtain registrations as fast as possible in Europe, Brazil and other important geographies.