N.L. backs crop inoculant manufacturing startup

A St. John’s-area company has picked up funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador government to make crop inoculants and biopesticides, initially for the U.S. market.

The province on Friday announced $580,000 in loans and grants for ICUS, spearheaded by area businessman Gordon Genge, for the launch of a production plant in an industrial park at Mount Pearl, just west of St. John’s.

The company (an acronym for “Italy, Canada, U.S.”) plans to open a 10,000-square foot microbial fermentation plant, which the company said will initially be used to make two types of inoculants, one for soybeans and one for wheat and canola crops. Its customer, it said, is an Ohio biologicals company, Advanced Biological Marketing (ABM).

“Inoculants in the U.S. are considered completely harmless and do not require any type of license or registration,” the company said in its provincial environmental assessment registration papers.

In Canada, however, registrations of inoculants and microbial pesticides are overseen by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), and ICUS said it plans to prepare those registrations over the next couple of years.

According to ICUS’ environmental registration papers, it’s been getting technical help and funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada over the past couple of years on its way to Canadian product registration.

In its papers, the company also said it’s been working this year on field trials with Viterra, Canada’s biggest grain handler, and with organic growers in Quebec through specialty flour miller Les Moulins de Soulanges.

“These groups are interested in distributing the products in Canada once a registration is obtained,” ICUS said.

ICUS, Viterra and ABM were listed as members of a consortium that got funding earlier this year from Sustainable Technology Development Canada to work on inoculant to reduce nitrogen fertilizer use in wheat production.

The funding package pledged to ICUS Friday includes a $500,000 loan from the province’s department of business, while its department of innovation, trade and rural development will contribute $80,000 toward “workforce development initiatives.”

“Sustainable manner”

ICUS said its organisms for these projects come from Canadian and/or U.S. farm soils, citing one which a federal agriculture scientist isolated from Manitoba farm soils, and which ICUS said it’s licensing from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

ICUS said it plans to produce about 1,500 kg of inoculant in its first year, and within five years it plans to reach its plant’s 10,000-kg annual production capacity.

In its environmental registration papers, filed in May, the company said it planned to start its project in June and finish sometime this month, as it has to meet supply requirements for its U.S. customer.

Advances in fermentation will allow ICUS’ biological products to “compete head to head with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, especially now that consumers and growers alike are demanding safer food products grown in a sustainable manner,” Genge said in the province’s release.

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