“In trials we’ve completed, our first product, CropCoat, is proving to be an effective and sustainable crop protection technology, says Kevin Chen, Ph.D., CEO of Crop Enhancement. According to Chen, CropCoat works by creating a physical barrier to protect the plant from “biotic stress [like] insects and disease.” In the future, the company hopes CropCoat could also address stressors like drought and extreme heat.
The company was founded in 2011 by scientist and serial entrepreneur David Soane, a former professor of chemical engineering at UC Berkeley. Soane is a specialist in surface technology, according to Chen, who says Soane designed CropCoat to modify the surface of crops to be stronger and hardier in the field.
Mike Wilbur, president and CEO of Cavallo Ventures, says the biological repellent is exactly the kind of new product he likes to back. “We look for [what] our customers need now and are going to want in the future,” he explains, which in this case is “safer [and] softer chemistries” to apply in the field.
Fruit and vegetable growers are under intense pressure to reduce their reliance on heavy pesticides these days, says Chen. “Growers around the world tell us that they want solutions that are good for their farms as well as the environment.”
Chen says pesticides bans and and an increase in pesticide resistance are just one part of the challenging situation facing fruit and vegetable growers. As Chen explains, “these insects…attacking crops have seen the same chemistry over time.” They’re becoming increasingly resistant to certain overused pesticides, so CropCoat can serve as a new alternative in a grower’s pest management strategy.
Wilbur says minimizing health impacts for farmworkers is especially important to Wilbur-Ellis. “We’re able to now bring them a product that is as effective or more effective than an insecticide but [also] increases worker safety. That’s a tremendous deal for Wilbur-Ellis and our shareholders,” he says.
The product was first tested on tropical crops like cocoa and coffee. In Indonesia, for example, the product has been tested on cocoa in particular for several years. “It’s a crop where the pest persistence has really increased [and] many of the traditional treatments are no longer effective. [But] growers…are seeing some very large improvements when they use our technology.”
The investment from Cavallo Ventures will enable the company to conduct more trials of the technology in the future. The company hopes to expands its trials into the United States, particularly in crops like leafy greens and strawberries. It’s also looking for new trial partners in Latin America.
“We’re glad to be able to back the Crop Enhancement team as they develop innovative solutions to long-standing challenges in production agriculture,” says Mike Wilbur. “Their unique approach addresses trends in the food and ag industry calling for products that are more sustainable and friendlier for growers, their farms and the global ecosystem.”