1

Geapower and research platforms


In Valagro, research and development activities are translated into innovation to tackle the challenges of modern agriculture, with the aim of ensuring food security, productivity and quality of crops around the world, in light of the environmental problems directly linked to the increase of the population and the reduction of arable land.

To achieve these objectives, Valagro's response is GeaPower, the exclusive technology platform that is based on:

  1. Access to raw materials and in-depth knowledge of these in chemical and biological terms;
  2. Optimal extraction methods capable of preserving active ingredients to ensure the efficacy and quality of the products;
  3. Accurate laboratory analysis to characterise the products at the chemical and biological level, and thus in terms of composition and effectiveness;
  4. Know-how: thanks to experimental trials carried out all over the world, the best products are selected for meeting the different needs in the field.


GeaPower is a dynamic platform that is adaptable to multiple needs. This approach was made clear in the 2013-2015 period by the new organisation of the Research and Development department. This department is now composed of five platforms that interact to combine skills and technologies to ensure the development and characterisation of new products according to the specific needs.
New organisation into "research platforms", each one dedicated to specific activities based on skills.
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The main scientific-technological innovations


In addition to the organisation into platforms, during these years the R&D activities were increasingly supported by new approaches and technologies for developing sustainable and effective solutions.

2.1 Research of new active biomolecules


In addition to the organisation into platforms, during these years the R&D activities were increasingly supported by new approaches and technologies for developing sustainable and effective solutions.
  • Phytochemical research: in recent decades there has been a renewed interest in developing natural products of plant origin into compounds that are useful for agriculture. The Valagro research team continually explores biomolecules, phyto-complexes and extracts derived from different plant species that can play a positive role in agriculture.
  • Study of microorganisms: these are increasingly an object of interest for identifying solutions for sustainable agriculture. In fact, microorganisms represent a key resource for preserving the vitality of the soil and improving the productive performance of the plants.
  • Development of formulations: new types of formulation (for example ‘carriers’) that can be absorbed optimally by the plants, and increase in the production capacity of compounds
Year201320142015
Production increase203053
60
45
30
15
0
2013
2014
2015
Increase in production of compounds over the years

2.2 Rapid screening procedures


Various methods were developed to accelerate the primary screening times of the prototypes.
  • In vitro bioassays: specific protocols for growing plants "in vitro" and for studying the biological activity of the products by eliminating the influence of soil and other environmental variables
  • "Omic" sciences: we characterise the effect of our formulations further using innovative technologies such as genomics, phenomics, proteomics and metabolomics, which allow us to validate specific prototypes with robust and objective approaches.
Bioassays and omic technologies make it possible to study up to 50 prototypes and 3000 plants simultaneously per experiment, thus greatly speeding up the times for screening and selecting the best prototypes.
  • Growth chambers, greenhouses, field tests: growth chambers, for example, are used to simulate particular conditions of stress for plants, such as high or low temperatures or nutrient deficiency, providing quantitative and qualitative evidences about products efficacy.
The number of field tests has increased significantly in recent years, thanks to the work of a dedicated company team of agronomists present in the 5 most important agricultural areas of the world (South Europe, USA, Brazil, Mexico and New Zealand). This group is able to carry out almost 600 field trials on different crops every year, testing the activity of the prototypes under actual field conditions. This large volume of field tests provides a package of precise and reliable information on the effectiveness of the prototypes. Part of the testing is carried out in collaboration with the most important test facilities in the different countries, to ensure the most thorough and reliable level of investigation possible.
All these technologies made serviceable by Valagro research have led to a noticeable growth in the number of primary screenings conducted per year by the various R&D platforms:

Primary screening per year


201320142015
Agronomy HQ100130198
Physiology202530
Pathology101525
Microbial71025
Total137180278
73%
14.6%
7.3%
5.1%
72.3%
13.9%
8.3%
5.5%
71.2%
10.8%
9%
9%
2013
2014
2015


Constant growth in the number of primary screenings performed, distributed by research platform

2.3 Enhancement of skills:


Within the fermentations sector (the study of biological and industrial processes for the production and study of microorganisms), the creation of the "Microbiology Lab" came as an important innovation. The investment made in this laboratory was aimed at the study of biostimulant microorganisms and biocontrol agents and was about €500,000.

High-tech equipment like the "MALDI Biotyper" allows the team of researchers to study up to 100 plants per experiment simultaneously, working efficiently and at high quality, thus greatly speeding up the times for screening and selecting the best strains to be tested , reducing the working days needed from 30 to 3.
Also, mini-bioreactors allow us to produce effective products based on micro-organisms on a large scale and with high quality standards.

  • Industrial crops: the study of specific solutions for crops such as soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton, etc.
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Collaborations with the world of science and innovation


In the framework of the growth of competences, special attention must go to the collaborations with major corporations and institutions in the world of science and innovation.

After years of collaboration with the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa, which allowed Valagro products to be studied with a genomic approach, in 2014 Valagro inaugurated its "Genomic Lab". This is a research laboratory in which studies and molecular analysis are conducted on plants, in order to discover new functions of use for the active ingredients used in biostimulants intended for the various business areas, from agriculture to gardening, and in the ingredients intended for nutraceutical and cosmetic purposes. The Genomic Lab, which was created with an initial financial investment of around €200,000, is the first laboratory of this type in Italy and Europe opened within a company to conduct genomic experiments on plants, with the aim of developing increasingly innovative and sustainable products while protecting the environment and humankind.

In terms of industrial partnerships, a particular notable example is that with the Dutch company "NSure", which was launched in 2014 to develop molecular techniques for studying molecular aspects of treated plants in the field.

Beyond the academic and industrial collaborations, the International Advisory Board (IAB) Valagro is of utmost importance. This scientific committee made up of international experts is able to provide strategic advice on the macro trends of the moment, with a particular focus on science and on the latest technologies in the sector in which the company operates. To date, the issues addressed by the IAB include:

  1. Plant Physiology
  2. Macro and micro algae and their use in agriculture
  3. Soil science
  4. Nutraceuticals
  5. Nutraceuticals
  6. Nanotechnologies (since 2015)


The members of the IAB "challenge" current thought and stimulate debate by providing input on specific research programmes, helping the R&D team to identify new applications for technology and providing important opportunities for networking and global collaboration.

Scientific networking evolution


year201320142015
N° of collaborations253037
40
30
20
10
0
2013
2014
2015
Constant growth in the number of scientific collaborations with universities and research centres
In addition to the number of the collaborations, their duration is also important for demonstrating the success and scientific value of the research projects developed in collaboration with universities and research centres. One example of a long-term collaboration is that with the "Institute of Life Sciences" of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, for the study of genomics applied to plants. The collaboration, which has been in place since 2007, acquired new momentum in 2015 thanks to a five-year project with an estimated value of over €1,000,000.

The considerable know-how that comes from the collaborations described above is also made available for international projects aimed at the development of new and more effective solutions to support the sustainable development of certain areas of the world. In this three year period support continues to the Harvest Plus Project, an international initiative aimed at improving crops to guarantee an adequate supply of micronutients to resolve deficiencies caused by malnutrition. Moreover, in 2014 Valagro launched a non-exclusive collaboration with the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), an American public organisation that deals with world food security, the fight against world hunger and poverty, protection of the environment and the promotion of economic development. The goal of the project is to develop innovative fertilisers aimed at increasing agricultural productivity and improving the living conditions of farmers, with particular attention to countries in Africa and South Asia.