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Science and seaweed combine to protect crops from climate change

New Innovator: BioAtlantis’ SuperFifty Prime

Cereals have been the mainstay of the human diet for thousands of years: even today over 50 per cent of the world’s daily calorie intake is cereal grain in some form. Yet only 20 per cent of main global cereal crops reach their full growth potential, with yields lost for a variety of reasons such as heat, cold, drought, disease and oxidative stress.

Endeavouring to tackle this problem is SuperFifty Prime, an all new seaweed-based additive from Co Kerry company BioAtlantis which helps crops withstand the stresses associated with climate change. SuperFifty Prime is the latest in a line of innovative products from BioAtlantis, which has made its mark by developing natural compounds to enhance plant, animal and human health.

“Some 70 per cent of crop losses are due to abiotic stress such as cold, drought, heat, waterlogging, salinity and so on, while 10 per cent are due to biotic stress such as plant diseases and pathogens,” says BioAtlantis research manager Dr Kieran Guinan. “Even on well managed farms with full fertiliser and pesticide programmes, crops only reach around 75 per cent of their genetic potential. There are very few products available to counteract crop losses due to abiotic stresses and this is the need SuperFifty Prime is addressing.”

Dr Sujeeth Neerakkal, who heads up plant research at BioAtlantis, describes SuperFifty Prime as a “highly innovative oxidative stress inhibitor that works by modulating gene expression and inducing a series of stress tolerance mechanisms and metabolomic changes in the treated crops. In effect, the technology works by ‘priming’ and preparing the plant to tolerate and respond more efficiently to future stresses and crop damage.

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“Through our research we had identified a number of bioactive compounds with the potential to influence molecular processes in plants. These included compounds derived from marine and terrestrial sources such as seaweed. We then focused on developing these compounds as molecular priming agents to enhance crop yield under the stressful conditions caused by climate change.”

Guinan says that efforts to improve crop production over the last 100 years have been largely focused on the use of agrichemicals to counteract biotic stresses, while the abiotic stress caused by adverse weather has largely been ignored even though severe weather events are becoming more frequent. “SuperFifty Prime is unique in that it is designed specifically to counteract oxidative stress and protect the crops from bad weather for up to 15 days post-application,” he says.

SuperFifty Prime is made in Co Kerry and aimed at commercial crop-growers worldwide. It is suitable for use on cereals, potatoes and fruiting crops such as apples and tomatoes. In all use cases it has been shown to increase yields, improve size and fruit and tuber set, Neerakkal says, adding that with potatoes, for example, applying SuperFifty Prime at critical growth stages to different varieties of potato in different geographic regions produced an average yield increase of around 12 per cent.

BioAtlantis has invested roughly €1 million in the development of the product, which was trialled with scientific partners in Germany and Bulgaria as part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation project. The product will be officially launched in November at a big potato industry event in Britain.

“BioAtlantis has built a strong reputation as a disrupter in the European biotechnology sector and in the delivery of environmentally-friendly and sustainable solutions to crop-growers worldwide. SuperFifty Prime is another example of this,” Guinan says.

“It is highly concentrated so this reduces packing, transport and recycling costs, while the foliar application rate is very low at one to five litres per hectare. The product is compliant with organic standards, residue-free and safe to the environment, pollinators and end-users alike. As with all of our products it is focused on delivering a 3:1 return on sustainable investment to the grower.”