Solvay’s AgRHO® S-Boost™ biostimulant has been awarded the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution label

By boosting crop growth without using environmentally noxious chemicals, AgRHO® S-Boost™ is a unique product on an agricultural market in dire need of innovation in order to feed the world while preserving the planet.

AgRHO® S-Boost™ acts as a Germination Seed Booster and enhances plant vigor. In contemporary agro-biological parlance, it’s a biostimulant. “This term wasn’t used only a decade ago,” explains Benoît Abribat, VP Agricultural Specialties at Solvay’s Novecare. “What AgRHO® S-Boost™ does is to enable increased root development: the plant gets strong quicker because it draws nutrients and water from the ground more efficiently, so less pesticides and fertilizers are required, and irrigation requirements are lower.”

Boosting resource efficiency in agriculture

Biostimulants have become an important market in the past few years, due to increasing pressure on farmers to replace the products they traditionally use to treat crops. This pressure comes both from evolving regulations that ban increasingly more environmentally noxious products and from consumer demand, as people want to eat healthier food without chemical residues. “But farmers don’t have all the solutions to do without traditional products,” continues Benoît. “The transition is underway, so a lot of innovation is required in biostimulants and biocontrol (methods for controlling pests and diseases that use other organisms instead of chemicals – ed.), and we believe Solvay has an important role to play in this transition towards agroecology.”

Benoît and his team began reflecting upon these issues a decade ago, as they started trying to figure out how some of the advanced chemicals in Solvay’s vast portfolio could help reduce water consumption in agriculture, a crucial issue in order to be able to feed a growing global population without sucking water resources dry.  “We basically screened all of Solvay’s products and technologies  that could contribute to diminishing water evaporation, for example by adding polymers to the soil,” says Benoît. “We eventually found that existing guar-based polymers used in home and personal care could help reduce hydric stress.”

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A new type of agrochemical solution 

Guar is a legume cultivated in Northern India from which is derived a natural thickener. Life-size testing showed that sprinkling it over fields did produce good results in terms of increasing crop yield with less water, but the method wasn’t economically viable. “So we thought: why not add the product precisely where it’s needed, around the seed?” The Agricultural Specialties team worked with a partner company specialized in seed coating and did more tests on crops such as beans and corn, “and we saw amazing results, with 5% yield increases, and even more in conditions of hydric stress,” continues Benoît.

What makes AgRHO® S-Boost™ unique is that it’s a new breed of biostimulant. Biostimulants are usually microorganisms such as bacteria. As such, they are sensitive to temperature and other environmental factors, and therefore their results can be variable. This is not the case with AgRHO® S-Boost™, and what’s more, synergies have been observed: in addition to boosting the plant’s development, it also helps microorganisms be more robust, thus contributing to enhancing their own positive effect on crops.

AgRHO® S-Boost™ exhibits a very unique set of properties: it’s bio-based, biodegradable and non-toxic for plants or people while reducing water, fertilizer and pesticide use and producing higher yields.

Benoît Abribat, VP Agricultural Specialties, Novecare, Solvay

Strong demand and recognition simultaneously

AgRHO® S-Boost™ was launched in 2017, in partnership with Limagrain, a French seed company, and is a commercial success in Europe. Benoît’s team also works with farms in Brazil – large-scale operations that do their own seed coating – and distributors in the USA are preparing for a commercial launch in 2020. “For each new customer, three to five years of agronomical testing are necessary,” explains Benoît. In addition to that, extensive field trials performed under the scope of the EU-funded STIMUL project have demonstrated that AgRHO® S-Boost™ could contribute to reducing the use of agricultural inputs.  “Today, thanks to the success of our tests, demand is booming.”

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Recognition is there too. In 2019, AgRHO® S-Boost™ received the World Alliance for Efficient Solution label from the Solar Impulse Foundation, recognizing its multiple benefits in terms of sustainable development. “AgRHO® S-Boost™ exhibits a very unique set of properties: it’s bio-based, biodegradable and non-toxic for plants or people, while reducing water, fertilizer and pesticide use and producing higher yields,” sums up Benoît. “Having this label is definitely a tremendous bonus for us, because it confirms the product’s value in terms of sustainability. It will also provide much more visibility to this Solvay solution globally.”

Building upon this initial success, the Agricultural Specialties team has started creating a full product portfolio, continuing to derive innovative solutions from Solvay’s huge catalog. One of these products for example replaces traditionally used synthetic polymers in seed coating with a starch-based material that avoids the release of microplastics in the environment and is even compatible with organic farming. They’re also working on a project to replace noxious bird repellents on seeds with healthier products (plant extracts). “This is one of the most fascinating projects I’ve worked on,” says Benoît. “We’ve initiated a new sustainable business by creating a new segment in seed care. The whole Agro Team is very proud to actively take part in the ecological transition of agriculture by providing sustainable solutions to farmers, and ultimately to us, the consumers.”