For Applied DNA, real growth in fertilizer

Growth agent: There's green in the authentication of global fertilizer supplies, according to Applied DNA Sciences.

Applied DNA Sciences, the Stony Brook biotech, has spent 2017 aggressively introducing its DNA-based supply chain, anti-counterfeiting and anti-theft technologies to new industries and markets – and now adds fertilizer, a critical commodity for global farmers, to its growing list.

Less than a month after applying its CertainT authentication platform to plastics – specifically, thermoplastic polymer resin – through a multi-year licensing deal with Indian global textile manufacturer GHCL Ltd., Applied DNA has announced the introduction of its molecular-tagging tech to the fertilizer industry, through a partnership with Belgian manufacturer Rosier S.A.

Rosier, which sells high-quality mineral fertilizers globally, first teamed with Applied DNA in September 2016, when the two companies launched a pilot program to DNA-tag and track fertilizer pellets.

Their mission: to “detect the dilution of genuine fertilizer with substandard material within a given batch,” Applied DNA said Monday.

The nine-month test run, which included laboratory and field tests and wrapped up in June, “successfully authenticated and detected the dilution of fertilizer with unmarked material,” the company added.

The pilot program also included the successful transit of fertilizer pellets through a West African supply chain, with SigNify IF – Applied DNA’s real-time, in-field DNA detection technology – ensuring that the marked shipment “had not been adulterated with unmarked material,” according to Applied DNA.

The successful study, which traced the pellets back to their original manufacturing points, could unlock a multibillion-dollar international market for Applied DNA and Rosier.

Adulterated (or outright counterfeit) fertilizer is a global problem. The Vietnam Fertilizer Association estimates that substandard fertilizer costs that country’s economy $2 billion a year; in Uganda, tests have revealed that urea – an organic compound that plays an important role in the metabolic breakdown of nitrogen-containing compounds by animals – is sold to farmers packing 33 percent less nitrogen than advertised. In Tanzania, an estimated 40 percent of fertilizers are believed to be fake.

Such red flags make the detection of adulterated fertilizer both a lucrative vertical and a bona fine humanitarian issue, according to Tony Benson, managing director of Applied DNA Europe.

James Hayward: Farm hand.

“Adulterated fertilizers have become a global supply chain problem of such impact that bankers will no longer finance fertilizer purchases for some farmers,” Benson told Innovate LI. “Without these necessary funds, farmers cannot purchase fertilizer, leading to poor or failing crop yields and financial disaster for the farmer.”

But after the pilot study, “regional banks expressed a willingness to finance DNA-tagged fertilizers,” Benson added, with multiple financers “praising our in-country demonstrations of the power of molecular tags to protect fertilizer supply chains against dilution.”

False fertilizers even present a global ecological dilemma, according to Applied DNA: When farmed soils are depleted of appropriate organic and mineral content, “farmers often clear new land, contributing to the global deforestation problem.”

With the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations forecasting global fertilizer demand to reach 199 million metric tons by 2019, Applied DNA President and CEO James Hayward noted a “substantial” addressable market in fertilizer authentication.

And even with his company busily making advances in a variety of different markets – including textiles, leather, European luxury cars and Department of Defense microcircuits – that addressable market is “well within our scalable capacity for global commercial ecosystems,” Hayward said Monday.

“Our manufacturing partner, Rosier, is well-established, committed and familiar with the markets that will first pull our platform through fertilizer supply chains,” the CEO noted.

Working with Rosier, Applied DNA expects to “identify initial customers” and begin shipments of molecular-tagged fertilizer in early 2018 – a big step for the company, the global environment and international agricultural economies, Hayward added.

“We believe this is one of the most significant steps the global economy can take toward sustainable agronomy,” he said. “Farming land where nutrient supplementation is in equilibrium with depletion by farming will help to prevent deforestation.”