Bee Vectoring Technologies CEO Ashish Malik on using bees to pollinate and inoculate crops
Bee Vectoring Technologies Intl Inc (CVE:BEE)(OTCMKTS:BEVVF)(FRA:1UR1) CEO Ashish Malik, formerly with Bayer CropScience, is passionate about protecting bees, and also finding ways to protect valuable crops like strawberries, from pests without the use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Plus, the bees do themselves a favour.
James West: Ashish, thanks for joining us today.
Ashish Malik: My pleasure, James. Thank you for having me.
James West: It’s my pleasure. Let’s start with an overview of the value proposition for investors in Bee Vectoring Technologies.
Ashish Malik: Yeah. Bee Vectoring Technologies, I’ll abbreviate it as BVT, is a company that is developing a leading disruptive technology to change farming practices on several flowering crops. And what we are introducing is a new method for the farmers to control different pests and diseases that will increase the profitability to the farmer, but also do it in a very environmentally friendly way, bringing benefits to the retailer as well as us as consumers, for the crop that farmer grows.
So what we’ve got is actually a technology that combines natural biological control products, which is a very viable alternative to chemicals that are used on farms today, and we’ve combined it with a new technology which is a viable alternative to spraying these products. We actually use bees to deliver that biological control agent to the crop.
James West: Do the bees get paid?
Ashish Malik: Ha ha ha! The bees actually do themselves a favour, because I don’t know how many folks are familiar with some of the issues with bees and colony collapse disorder lately, but one of the reasons why people speculate these bees are reducing in population is because of the use of chemicals on farms. So this is actually an elegant solution where the bees could help themselves, because the more biological products are used, the less chemicals are going to be used, and therefore, it should come back and help the health of the bee colony as well.
So we have a nice, sustainable program whereby the bees can actually help themselves.
James West: Sure. I had the good fortune to visit a test site where the bees were busily spreading a biological agent on strawberry plants. What was the effect of the bees’ interaction with the plants in terms of the shelf life of the fruit, as well as its resistance to disease?
Ashish Malik: The diseases that affect strawberry plants, both in the field as well as when the strawberry itself is picked, the disease which is the scientific name is botrytis, but the common name is gray mold. And you actually see it as a gray fuzz; the strawberry kind of rots, even in your refrigerator you’ll see a gray mold developing, and that’s actually caused by this botrytis pathogen. So what the bees are doing is, they’re delivering a beneficial fungus, which is again our proprietary microbe, in the field. And they do two things: they protect the strawberry plant as it’s growing, against botrytis, and by doing so, they not only help increase the productivity of the farmers’ land but it also increases the shelf life of the strawberry once it’s picked.
The typical shelf life of a strawberry after it’s picked, to the time it gets consumed or it rots, is about 20 days, and what we’ve shown in some data is that strawberries that are protected using the BVT technology actually have a three to four day longer shelf life. Which is significant, right? You have less food waste, we’re more efficient with the retailers, with the transportation, and we can actually keep the strawberries in our homes for that much longer.
James West: You bet. Okay, so besides strawberries, what other crops does this technology system can it be used for?
Ashish Malik: So potentially it could be used for any disease or insect, for that matter, and I will add on that in a second here, that affects the flower of a flowering plant. For example, strawberries is a great example, but so are tomatoes, so are sunflowers, so are almonds, and many others. Blueberries, as well. Strawberries happens to be the crop where we have done the most amount of work and is farthest along in our path towards commercialization, but just behind them are opportunities with blueberries and tomatoes, and sunflowers and almonds are just behind them.
So any disease that enters the plant through the flower, could be protected using our technology. Also any insects that affect or fly around the flower of a plant, we could, our technology is such that we could add a second biological control agent into our dispenser system and we could protect against those insects and the damage that they cause, as well.
So it’s a very scalable business that potentially could be used in many different flowering crops.
James West: Right. Okay, so then, how soon until commercialization occurs to the point where the company actually begins to make money?
Ashish Malik: We operate in a crop protection industry, and if you want to be selling a product that is scientifically validated, where you can make claims that you’re actually providing pesticidal [sic] control, albeit biological as opposed to chemical, so you’re pesticides in a sense, then we have to go through a regulatory process, right? Each country has their own authorities that register these products. We have submitted in the United States to the Environmental Protection Agency in September of 2016, and registration by the first half or in the first half of 2018. So we expect to be in revenue in 2018, and in the meantime, we’re generating demand for our product. We’re doing more trials with key influencers that influence growers, but most importantly, we’re also doing demos with some large-scale growers this season. So as they get comfortable with the technology this season, then the next season they’ll be able to purchase the product once it’s fully registered.
James West: Interesting.
Ashish Malik: There’s many milestones that we are working on even while the EPA is reviewing our regulatory data.
James West: Sure. Do you think that Donald Trump’s propensity towards deregulation, especially as it pertains to the environmental protection agency, is actually going to result in a beneficial timeline for you guys?
Ashish Malik: I think – I mean that obviously, that’s a longer term question. Our product has already been submitted, and we are following an aggressive timeline already. Anything that he puts in place, I don’t expect it’s going to change the timelines anytime soon. It won’t affect our registration.
James West: Right. Okay, and I was impressed with your background, Ashish. Can you perhaps just give us an overview of how you arrived at the position of President of the company?
Ashish Malik: I have about 13 years of experience within the crop protection industry, and the last 10 have been very specific in the biological crop protection area. I’m very passionate about how we grow our food. I want to make sure – I became passionate when my wife and I started a family, and I want to be very careful about what we feed our kids and our grandkids. I’m also very concerned about the impact that agriculture has on the environment and on the planet long term.
Anybody that’s passionate about these things should care about sustainable agriculture, and biologicals is one area that can improve productivity on farms but also have a positive impact on the environment.
I worked for two of the large global multinationals in the States, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience in senior positions. They are, by the way, those two companies are the number one and number two companies globally in the crop protection industry; they’re two of the big six. And in between Syngenta and Bayer, I was a member of the executive team of a company called Agriquest, and we were one of the technology leaders in the development of biologicals, and we were actually acquired by Bayer back in 2012.
So that’s how I joined Bayer, and I was running the assets, the biological assets that Bayer had, for the last four years. It came time, once the whole strategy and the portfolio was established at Bayer, I decided to leave and get back into more of an entrepreneurial type of environment. So that’s when I joined BVT.
James West: Excellent. Okay, so is it safe, perhaps optimistic, perhaps forward looking, but is it safe to say that you would be in a position to assess whether or not this technology of BVT’s would be of interest to an entity like Bayer Crop Sciences upon its maturity commercially?
Ashish Malik: So I think a lot of what we need to do, we need to be working through partners and with partners. Partners can be R&D partners for us, they can be commercial go to market partners, we can have partners around the supply of the bees that we need to make our system work. So we are very aggressively going to pursue these strategic partnerships, and of course Bayer and others, a whole bunch of other companies that could potentially be partners of ours.
As we work with these companies and as they get more and more familiar with our technology, that is a possibility. The possibility that there could be an acquisition further down the road. But I’m very keen to run the company to be a strong, independent player. We need to do everything that we need to go in order for us to prove that we can be a strong standalone company in our own right. And I think if we do our job executing our business plan, then that’s going to actually make us even more attractive to partners. So then they can see that this portfolio is actually viable as a standalone portfolio within the company.
James West: Great. Ashish, that’s an excellent introductory conversation. We’re going to leave it there for now and come back to you in a quarter’s time or so and see how you’re making out. Thank you very much for your time today.
Ashish Malik: Okay. My pleasure.