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Editor's Note: Neil Stapensea is director of business development for the Stoller Group, Houston. He joined Stoller in late 2003 after working in the distribution trade and 20 years with BASF in various capacities in Canada and the United States. The Stoller Group began more than 30 years ago and has grown from a small micronutrient company to the world leader in the development and sales of crop health products.

AM: What is Crop Health Therapy?

NS: Crop Health Therapy is based on the use of naturally occurring growth factors applied to plants to maximize their genetic expression. Genetic expression is compromised by stress, usually from unfavorable weather. Stress results in an imbalance between growth hormones (auxin, cytokinin and gibberillic acid) and stress hormones (ethylene and abscisic acid). Crop Health Therapy maintains the appropriate hormone balance throughout the growing season to make plants more resistant to stress, allowing the full expression of a plant's genetic potential.

AM: How is biotechnology different?

NS: Biotechnology can insert specific traits into plants producing their genetic potential. However, these plants must be grown in a favorable, stress-free environment for this genetic potential to fully express itself in terms of marketable yield. Generally speaking, we are only harvesting about 30 percent of the genetic potential for most plants. Biotechnology and breeding provide the genetic potential; Crop Health Therapy helps to realize it.

For example, different soybean varieties can have the inherent genetic potential for a certain level of oil or protein content. However, growing conditions will ultimately determine the actual level of oil or protein in soybeans. Crop Health Therapy can ensure more stress-free plant growth by maintaining the appropriate hormone balance needed for maximum genetic expression, in this case higher oil or protein soybeans.

AM: What channels are you using to educate growers about Crop Health Therapy?

NS: Seeing is believing, so we work closely with crop consultants to educate growers. Crop consultants demonstrate the technology in a grower's field and help the grower monitor crop development enhancements compared to untreated areas throughout the growing season.

We are also working with progressive dealers and distributors holding grower training seminars. Dealers are able to differentiate themselves with value-added service and production-enhancement technology that benefit both themselves and their customers through realization of a higher return on investment from the sale and use of Crop Health Therapy.

AM: What benefits are growers experiencing with use of Stoller products?

NS: The results are significant increases in marketable yield: preliminary university and field demonstration trials have shown increases of 60 to 110 percent in bell peppers, 85 percent in onions and 15 to 30 percent in potatoes, with promising indications in corn and soybeans not yet harvested. These trials consistently show significant enhancement of harvested fruiting part (fruit, seed, tubers, etc) uniformity, desired quality and storability, which command price premiums over lower-quality fruit. Seed companies and food processors are starting to recognize the value of Crop Health Therapy.

AM: What are the challenges of launching a new crop technology category?

NS: Education and extension. This technology is neither fertilizer nor pesticide. It fits more with seed and biotechnology in terms of extracting and realizing the genetic potential of plants. Crop Health Therapy allows us to manage the plant based on the most limiting factor: Mother Nature.

With the extensive cutbacks in government and distribution trade field extension resources, we continue to look for progressive crop consultants, dealers and distributors to help explain and demonstrate the power of this new technology. This entails learning a whole new science and terminology (the language of the plant) and thinking of crop production in a new way that complements what we are already doing.

To facilitate the education process, Stoller has produced a booklet called the "Crop Health Guide: Maximizing Plant Genetic Expression," which explains the science behind Crop Health Therapy.

Crop Health Therapy is a new tool that helps take crop production to a higher level. It increases high-quality, marketable yield per acre with a corresponding reduction in unit production cost for an improved total return on investment. This is the best defense in an increasingly competitive and economically challenging market environment. AM

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