AgraQuest President Dennis Joyce; Vineyard Grapes with AgraQuest Product (on left) and Without (on right)
It's getting to be that time of year here in the Northeast. And it happens to be one that we get excited about: it's almost that time to plant our garden. Since this year marks the first that our backyard garden is organic (it takes three years), we started looking for products that will coincide. We were interested to learn about AgraQuest, a bio-science company that develops organic products to help protect our garden from those awful pests that we lose so many tomatoes to. And not only do they sell products for the home gardener but to agricultural and institutional farmers as well. Their products do not leave any residue on produce or crops, which is an increasingly important benefit in light of consumer and regulatory pressure to reduce residues. We recently had a chance to sit down and chat with Dennis Joyce, President of AgraQuest, to learn more about their company.
Dennis, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. How did you become involved in AgraQuest? I wanted to work for a company with a big idea that could transform its industry. What I found in AgraQuest was a company that had cracked the code in terms of being able to produce effective, environmentally sensitive, and economically attractive pesticides for organic and conventional growers. It was clear to me then — and continues to be today — that AgraQuest is uniquely positioned to reduce the chemical load on our planet while delivering product solutions to satisfy an unmet need — that being the desire among the growing community for cleaner technologies across the spectrum of pesticides.
Do you feel that your product largely targets consumers, farmers or both?
We service both. For the farmer, we sell the bio-fungicide brands Serenade, Sonata, Balled Plus and Rhapsody, and what's called an adjuvant — BioTune. For the consumer, we sell a line of fungicides for use on roses, tomatoes, flowers and lawn — it's sold under the brand Serenade Garden, and can be found at local independent retailers as well as various online retailers. You can access some of the online retailers at www.serenadegarden.com.
Citrus Leaves with AgraQuest Product and Without
What's the key in marketing your products?
Successful marketing for AgraQuest begins with product performance. If the product works well it will sell itself, and that's one of the key reasons why we've seen nice success in the past few years. Our products go through a five step process before we're completely comfortable that they're ready for prime time: 1) lab tests; 2) greenhouse trials; 3) independent field trials; 4) small scale grower demonstration plots; and assuming success, 5) broad scale grower adoption. We then share our results through a variety of means: grower meetings, distributor presentations, advertising, direct mail, word of mouth. Important in all of our marketing and sales efforts is garnering university support. We work closely with many universities around the world to conduct trials with our products to prove their efficacy. Ultimately, if a product is "e3" we know we've got a winner — highly Effective, Environmentally sensitive, and Economically viable.
Does it seem that you have a larger demand for your products as the public awareness of organic living and sustainability increases?
Without question. Millions of consumers, and I include myself in this group, are looking for a healthier way of life and a cleaner environment. Farmers want cleaner alternatives to conventional chemistries. Regulatory bodies, including the EPA in the U.S. and others around the world, are getting more stringent in their policies. These are the prevailing winds at our back, and are evidenced by the fact that bio-pesticides are the fastest growing segment of the pesticide industry.
I understand that your product is being used internationally. Which countries are currently using them and why aren't others?
AgraQuest is in nearly 20 countries now. The United States remains our largest market, but we have great businesses in Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Italy, Turkey, Israel, the UK, New Zealand, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Our goal is to continue to expand globally. We hope to be in Brazil in 2008, and are working hard to gain access to other markets like Spain. The key "gating" factor is getting regulatory approval from each country -- it's not enough to have EPA registration--we have to go through fairly rigorous processes. As you can well-imaging, some countries are more bureaucratic than others, and despite the best intentions, too many countries around the world are missing out on the opportunities to get cleaner technologies into the hands of their farmers. That said, we continue to plug away and are excited by the results we're seeing in those countries where we have already received approvals and are seeing fast adoption.
What is your hope for AgraQuest over the next few years? What would you like to accomplish?
We'd like to expand our product line and, as we like to say around AgraQuest, "get an AgraQuest product on every acre." The truth of the matter is we are passionate about what we're doing and we know in our hearts that we have breakthrough technologies that can transform the industry — for the better. And so if we can deliver an "e3" product in every important pesticide class, we'll have accomplished a great deal to further the cause of a cleaner food supply (it all begins in the field with how we treat our crops) and a cleaner environment.
What's one thing that you do each day to make the world a better place, and one thing you wish you could do?
I kiss my children and tell them I love them and how proud I am of them. In some way, I think that message makes the world, at least their world and mine, a better place. The one thing I wish I could do is wake up to a world where products like ours at AgraQuest were the norm in agriculture. I know we will get there, but just wish it would happen faster.
Thank you Dennis and it was great to meet you!