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Creating bacterial synergy

Microbiology firm on the cutting edge

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A Winnipeg agricultural biotechnology company that has been selling chemical-free seed inoculants for peas, lentils and soybeans in the U.S. for a couple of years now has regulatory approval to sell in Canada.

Manas Banerjee, the CEO and founder of XiteBio Technologies Inc. is excited about the opportunities to sell what he believes to be leading-edge technology into his home-crop region where both peas and soybean acreage are on the rise.

"Soybeans are a huge crop and hugely profitable for our farmers here," Banerjee said. "The technology we use is natural -- a green technology. While there are other products out there, none of them use the technology we have."

Banerjee has been doing research in cell microbiology for more than 20 years. He has worked for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and is an adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario.

Using certain blends of specialized bacteria mixed with other ingredients, XiteBio has come up with ways to allow plants to fix atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to a form the plants can use, invigorate the existing soil and create synergy between the introduced bacteria and the bacteria already in the soil.

Banerjee said other inoculants will introduce certain kinds of bacteria that must compete with what is already existing in the microflora.

"Our product makes a synergy," he said. "Rather than kick out the existing bacteria in the soil, ours shake hands and cohabitates so that one plus one equals three. That's why we are very different than others in the industry."

It seems clear his passion is for research and the development of new ways to develop natural advanced growth-promoting technology.

Banerjee's connection to the university research community has garnered many academic research papers that have shown the efficacy of the product -- an average of 17 per cent increase in crop yield.

XiteBio, which is privately owned and financed, needs every bit of help it can get when it comes to getting the word out.

"We are a small company and it can be a challenge getting heard," said Garry Van Den Bussche, the company's director of sales and marketing. "That's why we have a very focused approach as opposed to the large multinational crop input companies who want to be all things to all people."

Banerjee said, "We don't have a research and development department, we have an innovation, research and development centre. Anything that comes out of our pipeline has to be innovative. That is the only way we can survive."

Although the company has only been incorporated since 2011 Banerjee has had a long reputation in the field.

Terry Scott, director, western retail at Pickseed Canada, said, "We've known about Dr. Banerjee for a number of years he has researched inoculants for many years. He has brought this along through the last several years with research studies and all the trials."

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency registration came too late for this year's seeding on the four million acres of soybeans planted in Canada, two million acres of lentils and the 3.4 million acres of peas. But Van Den Bussche said there is plenty of work to do to get XiteBio's products on the market this summer when many farmers will have their plans in place for next year.

In the U.S., the company's products continue to garner a good reputation.

Doug George of George Brothers Propane and Fertilizer in Sutton, Neb. has been distributing XiteBio products for a couple of years in soybean country of southern Nebraska.

"It's competitively priced and really does seem to do the job," he said. "I have not seen yield studies from my customers, but the University of Nebraska is doing some."

XiteBio's 11-person operation south of the University of Manitoba has a lab with the capacity to ship enough product to satisfy current demand.

In addition to inoculants for peas, lentils and soybeans, XiteBio has product developed for canola and is working on inoculants for corn, wheat, barley and sugar beets.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 B7

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