A biostimulant heralding a cleaner future for farming

One of the main challenges the world faces today is to create a sustainable agriculture model that can feed the world while preserving the planet and adapting to climate change.

Water scarcity, drought, extreme temperatures and volatile weather patterns can considerably reduce crop quality and yields. In addition, regulations and consumer demand to minimize chemical residues in food and the environment are putting pressure on existing crop protection technologies and farming practices.

“But farmers don’t have all the solutions to do without traditional products,” explains Benoît Abribat, Vice President Agricultural Specialties at Solvay’s Novecare. “The transition is underway, so a lot of innovation is required in new technologies such as biostimulants, biocontrol, and seed treatment. and we believe Solvay has an important role to play in this.”

Benoît and his team began reflecting upon these issues a decade ago, as they started investigating how some of the advanced solutions in Solvay’s vast portfolio could help reduce water consumption, a crucial environmental and conservation issue in agriculture.  “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.”

Agrho-GRAPHIC

Guar is a legume cultivated in Northern India from which is derived a natural thickener. Field trials showed that broadcast application of the guar-based polymer produced 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 soybeans and corn, “and we saw amazing results, with 5% yield increases, and even more in conditions of hydric stress,” continues Benoît. 

AgRHO® S-Boost™ was born.

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

Boosting agricultural efficiency with AgRHO S-Boost

AgRHO® S-Boost™ acts as a Germination Seed Booster and enhances plant vigor: in other words a biostimulant. “This term wasn’t even used a decade ago,” explains Benoît. “What AgRHO® S-Boost™ does is increase root development: the plant gets stronger quicker because it favors nutrients and water uptake, so less pesticides and fertilizers are required, and irrigation requirements are lower.”

AgRHO® S-Boost™ is unlike any other biostimulants which are usually microorganisms such as bacteria. As such, they are sensitive to temperature and other environmental factors resulting in great performance variability. AgRHO® S-Boost’s™ unique mode of action works in synergies with soil and seed microorganisms, thus contributing to overall plant vigor.

Strong demand and simultaneous recognition

AgRHO® S-Boost™ was launched commercially in Europe in 2017, in partnership with Limagrain, the world's 4th largest seed company. Benoît’s team also works with farmers in Brazil – large-scale operations that do their own seed coating – and Ag distributors in the USA are preparing for a commercial launch in 2020. 

Solar Impulse_Efficient Solution

“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. 

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 eco-friendly, 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.”

Expanding our seed care sustainable solution  

Building upon this initial success, and as part of the Group's variety of solutions to help feed the planet, Solvay’s Agricultural Specialties team has started creating a full seed care product portfolio, continuing to derive innovative solutions from the Group’s huge catalog. One of these products, AgRHO® Biodinder, replaces traditionally used synthetic polymers in seed coating with a starch-based material designed to meet the EU’s upcoming microplastics regulation and is even compatible with organic farming. (Similarly, Solvay is addressing the European REACH regulation on VOC’s with its new eco-friendly waterborne coatings solution.)

The team is also working on a project to replace toxic bird repellents on seeds with plant extracts. “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 for the future of agriculture by providing sustainable solutions to farmers, and ultimately to us, the consumers,” concludes Benoit.