Twenty-five years ago, BioWorks Inc. was on the leading edge of the crop input market with an environmentally-friendly, biologically-based crop protection tools for the agricultural industry. Today, the landscape is far more crowded with some of the biggest companies in the ag chemical world participating in that sector.
But BioWorks continues to thrive with a number of core products for both the ornamental and specialty crop industries. “Technology developed at Cornell University was used to launch our core product and our company,” said President Bill Foster. “That mindset of offering products that are safe, proven and effective continues to drive us today.”
The firm’s top seller then and now is called RootShield®, though it has gone through a number iterations in those two and half decades. It is now available in granules and wettable powder—and in a new formulation called RootShield PLUS—with two active ingredients. Its preference with growers is that it prevents soil-borne Phytophthora, as well as other diseases. RootShield PLUS offers improved suppression of the hot-season Pythium. BioWorks has about other 20 products, most being certified for use on organic production but also highly efficient for the conventional grower who is managing resistance issues with standard chemistries. Other key products include MilStop® that controls powdery mildew and Verdanta®, a fertilizer line that is becoming quite popular. In 2017, the BioWorks introduced BotryStop, a product specifically for botrytis control. In 2018 additional products will be released, with more in the pipeline.
The company initially focused its business on ornamental and horticultural markets. Over the years, it expanded its offerings, which has led to today’s broad stable of products.
With many of the big players now offering biologicals, Foster said the initial reluctance of growers giving more sustainable crop protection tools a chance on their conventional crops has been eased, but there are still pockets of resistance from those that are not familiar nor highly informed about the products. He added that there is a generational component to how growers react to biologicals. As with many “new” ways of doing things in agriculture, younger growers tend to be more open to testing. And testing, he said, is key to expanding the use of biologicals. For the most part, he said growers are always interested in trialing something new. “We like to say every grower is from Missouri…the show me state.”
Joe Gionta, director of sales and marketing, said growers are concerned about the safety and resistance management, so more and more of them are looking at biological options. He added that consumers are also driving the move toward increased use of more sustainable products. Foster said the efficacy of any product is still critical in its adoption but ease of use is high on the list. The use of biologicals allow for immediate return to the field by the workforce.
BioWorks products are sold throughout North America through a distributor network. The firm is based in western New York, with each of the four owners also being integral employees. Marketing Manager Jeff Luke called the firm “a small to medium sized company that is ranked in the top 10 globally” in the biologicals sector. While that’s a fairly high ranking, the top few participants are multi-national, multi-billion dollar companies. Nonetheless, BioWorks is experiencing double-digit growth each year.
It has been actively selling its products into the western vegetable market for many years. Foster said that there are some inherent differences in this market including the extensive use of pest control advisers—which are not used in other states or markets.
BioWorks became familiar with the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology through a press release late last year and believed it was a perfect fit. The company sees itself as an innovator and the opportunity to collaborate with other innovators in the ag space was compelling. “We take a long-term industry perspective,” Foster said, adding that the company firmly believes biological crop protection tools will become increasingly important over time. Currently, he estimated that biologicals only account for 3-5 percent of the total market.