By Tim Linden
A key problem with biologicals is that by the time they move through the supply chain they have often lost much of their effectiveness.
At least that is the view of Bruce Caldwell, CEO and Founder of 3Bar Biologics, a company that was designed to solve that problem and, in fact, won the AgSharks® Competition at the November 2021 Annual Meeting of Western Growers. The company is currently in negotiations with AgSharks sponsor S2G Ventures on its $250,000 investment offer that it made to Caldwell following his AgSharks win.
In an interview with WG&S, Caldwell reiterated that the biggest issue with biologicals is that they often are not able to duplicate lab results in real life settings. “The consistency of in-field performance is the biggest issue,” he said.
Like perishable produce, living microbials can deteriorate if they are not handled properly through all segments of the supply chain. Caldwell said the distribution system for crop inputs has largely been designed for the synthetic chemicals that dominate the market, not the biologicals that often are offering more environmentally friendly solutions.
Caldwell has had a long career in the Food and Ag industry, including 30 years leading product innovation teams at Procter & Gamble and ScottsMiracle-Gro. While at Scotts, he saw many biologicals developed but never quite deliver their promise in the field. “We had virtually no success getting live microbials through the supply chain,” he said. “There were some exciting discoveries but a huge gap in getting them to market.”
In studying the problem, Caldwell became convinced that it was in the timing of the activation of the microbial and the subsequent delay in delivery that caused the issue. “Like any other living product, it has to be handled properly to keep its freshness.”
He compared biologicals to kombucha, the popular drink that contains live bacteria and must maintain a cold chain throughout the delivery process to enjoy an extended shelf life.
Getting deep into the specifics, he said microbes that do not form protective spores have the most difficult time reaching the end user in a fresh, effective state. Yet research studies are finding that these non-spore forming microbes are frequently the most beneficial for plants. 3Bar has developed what it calls LiveMicrobe Technology to deliver lab-like quality to the farmer’s field.
“Paired with your microbe, our LiveMicrobe Technology delivers viable microbes to farmers’ fields. LiveMicrobe solves the persistent problem of lost viability by activating the true power of microbes through a first–in-class microbe production and delivery system,” according to the company’s website.
3Bar Biologics’ innovative approach has created a system that allows fermentation to occur directly within the packaging, generating the most viable microbes possible. The grower can activate the fermentation process at point of use, or it can be activated as a final step in the supply chain before delivery, so it arrives ready to use at the customer.
Caldwell revealed that using this approach, the products, such as bio-pesticides and bio-stimulants, are much more concentrated and they grow exponentially when activated. He said the cost is relatively cheap because the rate of application can be so low. For example, one such product that the company has trialed is applied at the rate of 10 liters per 120 acres of field corn. That’s literally only drops in a given acre.
3Bar is located in Ohio and so the company has had more experience trialing products for field crops, but Caldwell said its future lies in the specialty crop business as well, largely because they are high-value crops that are a better fit for biologicals. The company’s business model, with its proprietary packaging system, is to be the manufacturer of these various biologicals. Caldwell emphasized the company is not in the business of discovery but rather is a manufacturer.
He is passionate about the innovation 3Bar is bringing to market and believes it is a game changer for the industry. “It opens the door to a broader range of biologicals that can offer a broader range of benefits.”
He noted that many potentially very beneficial biologicals do not make it through the vetting process because delivering in the field is difficult to accomplish. He added that the biological industry has long recognized this problem causing many innovators to shy away from using non-spore forming microbes.
He is convinced that as 3Bar’s technology is employed, the specialty crop industry will start seeing a lot more biologicals that offer an excellent return on investment.
“We (3Bar Biologics) are at an inflexion point. With new investment, we are focusing on growing our product development and manufacturing capabilities exponentially. We are currently identifying partners to work with to bring new products to market.”
*pictured above: Bruce Caldwell pitching at the 2021 AgSharks Competition