A University of Toronto graduate school project is now extending the life of widely used crop protection products. Vive Crop Protection’s trademarked Allosperse Delivery System uses nanotechnology to create new application methods for existing biological and conventional crop protection products.
Why it matters: With few fully new chemicals coming to market, making existing products work better is a key way to offer farmers additional ways to control pests, weeds and diseases threatening their crops.
“The active (ingredient) needs to get to the right place at right time and at the right rate, and the biggest challenge is that it’s all on a very, very small scale, such as getting through the waxy cuticle of a leaf surface, for example,” says co-founder and CEO Darren Anderson. “If you can improve how something behaves at a nano scale, it can do things it never did before.”
For example, it’s difficult to mix most products in-tank with liquid fertilizer – their chemical nature is incompatible with such a high-salt environment.
Vive developed a nano-scale shuttle – a microscopic web of polymer material – that transports the active ingredient to where it needs to be and keeps it protected until it is deployed. The shuttle mixes well with liquid fertilizer so that farmers can now apply crop protection and fertilizer in a single pass, cutting labour time and fuel costs as well as reducing emissions.
It’s innovation that is needed to help farmers keep on top of pests and diseases, especially with resistance pressure mounting and high costs and lengthy regulatory processes slowing development of new chemistries, suggests Warren Libby, Vive Crop Protection board member and a former president of Syngenta Crop Protection Canada.
“Innovation from chemistry has slowed down to a snail’s pace, but what Vive can do is take some of these brands farmers have come to depend on and make them work better, like penetrate into the weed or the host plant better,” Libby says.
Vive’s flagship product is AZteroid FC 3.3, a fertilizer-compatible version of Azoxystrobin, an active that protects crops like corn, potatoes, dry beans and sugarbeets against various fungal diseases. It’s already registered in the U.S., with the earliest soft launch in Canada expected sometime in 2021.
Bifender FC, an insecticide that protects against corn rootworm, is also on the market and three new products will launch in the U.S. next year, all of which will be mixable with liquid fertilizer.
What growers buy is just like the products they’re used to buying – Vive purchases the active ingredient molecule and combines it with the shuttles and other crop protection ingredients to create a new, better version of an older product. Vive also works with manufacturers who are interested in using the Allosperse shuttles for their own applications.
“We’re about creating value for growers with products they can use in new ways to improve productivity; we’re not taking an active off patent and just repackaging it,” adds co-founder and Vice President of Product Development Jordan Dinglasan.
According to Anderson, grower feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with over 98 per cent of respondents in a grower survey indicating a willingness to use the product again. Sugarbeet and corn are the two biggest crops on the 650,000 acres where Vive products are used; alfalfa was newly added this year. Most users are in the U.S Corn Belt and the upper Midwest, with expansion into alfalfa and potato crops in the Pacific Northwest next year.
In terms of return, Anderson estimates grower ROI at two to three times and up to as much as 10 fold for crops like sugarbeet and potato where controlling in-ground diseases is critical to yield.
“What Vive is doing is probably the most cutting edge. Working with nanotechnology is unique and I have a lot of hope about what can be accomplished,” says Libby.
Funding from the Ontario Centres of Excellence and an angel investor helped Vive get started, and subsequent support from ag accelerator Bioenterprise and Ontario Agri-Food Technology’s Rapid Response program helped them focus on agriculture as the key market for their innovation.