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50 Smartest Companies of the Year 2019

An Interview with NewLeaf Symbiotics Leadership: ‘We Have Demonstrated that M-Trophs can Improve Grain Quality and Increase Nutrient Acquisition in Crops while Simultaneously Improving Crop Yield’

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We’re the leading plant microbiome company discovering and commercializing beneficial plant microbe (M-trophs) that are transforming agriculture.

NewLeaf Symbiotics was built on a pioneering spirit. As the only agriculture company singularly focused on M-trophs, one of the most important classes of plant-associated microbes, there was no road map. The team decided it needed to build the world’s biggest library of M-trophs as a basis to draw from – to solve some of agriculture’s greatest challenges.

NewLeaf fully sequences the genomes of all M-trophs in its library and has architected and built de novo a computational genomics engine called the Prescriptive Biologics® Knowledgebase (PBK). The PBK integrates discovery, strain selection, development, field trial data, and formulation and fermentation data to create and align products to particular crops and environments. The PBK incorporates proprietary algorithms to analyze massive genotype and phenotype datasets, predict best-fit product candidates, and efficiently mine the rich vein of naturally occurring M-trophs.

Last year, NewLeaf scientists demonstrated how the prevailing wisdom that biologicals must trade-off yield for quality does not hold for M-troph technology. The company has filed patents round the exciting discovery that M-trophs can improve grain quality and increase nutrient acquisition in crops while simultaneously improving crop yield.

NewLeaf’s strategy is IP-centric and its patent portfolio covers a broad range of applications including methods of production and formulation, crop yield enhancement, biotic and abiotic stress mitigation, and activity against insects and diseases. The company has over 90 patents filed or granted worldwide that encompass 17 patent families, effectively providing broad protection of the M-troph field.

NewLeaf was incorporated in 2013 and is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

Tom Laurita (Co-founder & CEO) and Steve Kahn (Co-Founder & CFO), NewLeaf Symbiotics Leadership, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?

NewLeaf Symbiotics was established to discover and develop innovative crop inputs, empowering growers to increase crop yield, and naturally protect against insects and diseases, enhance grain and fruit quality, and improve nutrition. With a singular focus on one class of microorganisms, pink-pigmented facultative methylotrophs (M-trophs), NewLeaf’s technology engages the plant’s entire ecosystem to deliver benefits for farmers, input providers, and consumers — all sustainably.

What challenges did you face in your initial years?

Research, discovery, and development in the Ag industry is extremely expensive – that was a challenge initially.

Our investors are patient and understand the agricultural cycle. In North America for broad acre crops, there is only one harvest a year and that cycle impacts the speed at which development happens. Having investors who understand our business and the value of investing in science gave us the opportunity to develop the best products with the right targets.

What kind of responses have you received from consumers over the years? How have they motivated you to shape your offerings/grow the company?

Consumers are very important to our business. For decades, they have been disconnected with where their food comes from. With the recent increased focus on health/wellness and climate change, consumers are beginning to demand more transparency and understanding of the agriculture system. At NewLeaf, we focus on providing farmers with higher yield and increasing the nutritional content of the crops they grow while reducing the environmental impact of their agronomic practices.

Is your company a leader or a follower?

NewLeaf is a leader. With the important IP estate, our singular focus on M-trophs puts us in a class apart from all other Ag input companies. At our core, we are science-based with 20 Ph.D. scientists on staff and a leadership team with collectively over 100 years of experience in agriculture. NewLeaf has spent the past seven years investing in science.

We believe in transparency and traceability; we know where our products go, who uses them and collect data coming from their use.

What are the factors that make your brand stand out from the competition?

With our depth of experience, intellect, and determination, we don’t accept conventional wisdom. We believe nature holds the solutions to agriculture’s greatest challenges. Since nature is ever-evolving, the opportunities are endless. One example: In 2018, NewLeaf scientists demonstrated how the prevailing wisdom that plants must trade-off increased yield for quality does not hold. We have demonstrated that M-trophs can improve crop performance by enhanced nutrient acquisition and moisture uptake leading to more robust plant growth, crop quality and yield.

Do you have any new products ready to be launched?

NewLeaf is introducing a broad range of products based on M-trophs, a class of ubiquitous pink microbes that naturally colonize the roots and leaves of all plants. These products overcome the limitations of many current biologicals by consistently delivering benefits throughout the growing season resulting in increased plant yield and nutritional content. M-trophs occupy a unique evolutionary niche in the plant microbiome, using methanol (a by-product of plant metabolism) as their energy source. This remarkably true symbiosis distinguishes M-troph-based products from any other Ag biologicals in the market. NewLeaf has recently introduced four products in the US through national distribution partners. Terrasym® technology serves as the platform for our family of products for soybean, corn, and peanut in the US, providing farmers with greater harvestable yield.

Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?

We will realize the full potential of M-trophs by enabling agriculture to transition to a more sustainable future. We see ourselves working closely with partners to bring Terrasym® technology-based products to market that help farmers increase the crop’s nutrient uptake, reduce the volume of fertilizer applied, and protect our wetlands and waterways from agricultural run-off. Moreover, we see ourselves working closely with input suppliers to overcome the chemical treadmill and change the way food is produced.

“M-trophs occupy a unique evolutionary niche in the plant microbiome, using methanol (a by-product of plant metabolism) as their energy source. This remarkable symbiosis distinguishes M-troph-based products from any other Ag biologicals in the market.”