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Wharf42 founder Peter Wren-Hilton onstage with panelists discussing Platform 10.

Western Growers & Wharf42 initiative Platform 10 launches global grower trial network to speed up adoption of biologicals

June 26, 2024

Platform 10, an international collaboration formed to accelerate adoption of ag biologicals, just launched its grower trial network to conduct extensive global field trials of promising biologicals on grower farms.

Western Growers Association (WGA) and agrifoodtech consultancy Wharf42, which created Platform 10, made the announcement this week at their Salinas Biological Summit event in California. Field trials will start in California before moving across both hemispheres, starting with New Zealand, Australia, Denmark and the UK.

“Some of the challenges that you face here in California and the wider US market are actually not dissimilar to the challenges that growers everywhere face,” Wharf42 founder Peter Wren-Hilton said onstage at the summit.

‘We have similar issues around costs of products, reliability, efficacy’

Among those challenges are growing resistance to chemical solutions among pests and diseases, demand from consumers for “cleaner” produce, and regulatory measures that are taking chemical solutions off the market in many parts of the world.

That’s true not just in California but globally, and it’s not always regulators leading the charge.

In the UK, for example, food retailers call the shots, Dr. Louise Sutherland, project development director for Ceres Agri-Tech, said at the summit. That means some don’t allow certain ingredients, some only allow a certain level of residues, and some do their own integrated pest management (IPM) audit.

“They are on a mission to reduce pesticide usage. Growers, whether domestic or those exporting, must be able to understand and meet these requirements.”

These restrictions can impact the export/import process, too, explained Dr. Louise Thatcher, principal research scientist at CISIRO Agriculture and Food in Australia. “If there are chemical restrictions in place in other countries, growers need to make sure they can meet those demands. We have similar issues around costs of products, reliability, efficacy. Uniform testing of products is very important.”

‘We want to see action and activity now’

To address such things, the Platform 10 Grower Trial network will conduct grower trials of biological products.

“That will provide us with the opportunity to use counter-seasonal cropping seasons to really accelerate growth and grow the opportunity [for biologicals],” said Wren-Hilton.

Platform 10 came as the result of the 2023 Salinas Biological Summit.

“At the end of that summit, people were saying, ‘Look, we don’t just want to wait 12 months for another two-day conference. We want to see action and activity now,'” noted Wren-Hilton.

Platform 10 launched officially in November 2023; an RFP identified 10 biopesticide products, which Wren-Hilton said will very shortly go into field trials with farmers in the Western Growers network in California.

The program is initially targeting five specialty crops with high-priority diseases:

  • Leafy Greens: INSV, pythium, thrips
  • Tomato: Beet leafhopper, thrips and/or tomato spotted wilt virus
  • Grape: Mealy bug, powdery mildew, botrytis
  • Strawberries & other berries: lygus bug, macrophomina, phytophthora
  • Citrus: Citrus thrips, red scale

“As we go forward, we will be releasing new RFPs that will reflect the interests and concerns of the different locations in which we’re operating,” said Wren-Hilton.

He noted that Platform 10 recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Plant & Food Research in New Zealand, and told AgFunderNews that is where the Grower Trial network is likely headed next.

Onstage, he said Platform 10 will sign several other agreements with “leading organizations in other countries” over the next several months; the organization is in talks with groups in other countries, too, including the Netherlands, Israel, and countries in Latin America.

Said Wren-Hilton: “My expectation is by this time next year we’ll be able to announced a number of global partners within the Platform 10 network.”

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