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AgraQuest’s products strike a sustainable chord with agriculture

Marcus Meadows-Smith, chief executive officer of AgraQuest, and Sarah Reiter, director of global marketing. (Photo by John Groh)

ATLANTA — With worldwide population expected to increase nearly 30 percent by 2050, when about 9 billion people are projected to inhabit the planet, the demand for food will be at an all-time high. What’s more, growers will be under increasing pressure to farm in a more sustainable fashion in order to preserve the Earth and its valuable natural resources.

AgraQuest, a leader in biological and low-chemical pest-management solutions, is looking to meet that challenge head on with a line of biopesticide products it offers to growers that effectively control pest populations in an environmentally friendly manner while also boosting crop yields.

“We started with a focus on organic products but recently adopted a broader view to help feed 7 billion people in a sustainable way,” Marcus Meadows-Smith, chief executive officer of Davis, CA-based AgraQuest, told The Produce News Oct. 15 during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention, here.

From Mr. Meadows-Smith’s point of view, there are three Ps in sustainable agriculture — planet, people and profit. While “planet” and “people” are more closely associated with sustainability, “a company must also make a profit if it is to remain in business,” he said.

Furthermore, he said that there are three key challenges for sustainable farming — maintaining food quality, increasing productivity and reducing impact on the environment — and he believes that AgraQuest overcomes those challenges with the products it offers.

“Biopesticides are naturally occurring [organisms] that have a low impact on the environment,” said Mr. Meadows-Smith.

Biopesticides can help improve food quality since they are non-toxic; they have no regulated residues that could hamper access to export markets; they promote plant health for more attractive and healthy food; and they improve packout and shelf life.

With regard to increasing productivity, biopesticides are cost-effective substances that are very effective in controlling pests and diseases, which leads to increased crop yields.

Reducing impact on the environment is a hallmark of biopesticides, since they are naturally occurring organisms. They are highly targeted to particular pests; they do not persist in the environment; they are made from renewable resources; they are soft on beneficial insects; and they are safe for workers, neighbors and consumers.

Serenade is AgraQuest’s flagship product, according to Sarah Reiter, director of global marketing. It is used widely in banana plantations due to its efficacy in combating Black Sigatoka, which damages the leaves of banana plants and reduces yields. The product is also effective when used with strawberries, potatoes and tomatoes.

Other products in AgraQuest’s current portfolio are Sonata and Ballad, which are fungicides that help control mildew and rust, and Requiem, an insecticide that suppresses viruses and controls sucking pests. Additionally, five new products are scheduled to be released in the next five years.

“We feel we are different than any other product out there right now with regard to the science,” Mr. Meadows-Smith said.

Perhaps the biggest endorsements for AgraQuest’s products have come from large commercial agriculture operations such as BASF, DuPont and Dow, which are now recommending that AgraQuest’s products be used in concert with other measures, according to Mr. Meadows-Smith.

“Our growth has been tremendous,” he said. “We have grown 30 percent per year while the sector has been growing at 10 percent per year. We are increasingly understanding the value of the food chain, and we are looking to get a better understanding of the produce industry and what it wants, which is why we decided to exhibit here [at the PMA Fresh Summit].”