Dr. Rusty Rodriguez is the CEO of Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (AST), an ag biotech company that has developed microbial solutions that enable plants to battle climate and environmental stress, increasing crop quality and yields. These stressors include drought, temperature stress and salty soils, to name a few. The company is selling to both commodity crop farmers and smallholder “monsoon” farmers in the absolute worst of drought conditions in India. These farmers have been able to increase crop yields with incredible results to date. In a world of increasing climate and environmental stress, this is a revolutionary technology. The company has raised more than $4 million in private funding, and received a number of grants including USAID’s Securing Water For Food Grand Challenge.
In this interview, we cover:
- [2:10] What in the heck is a fungal endophyte?
- [2:50] The problems that AST is solving and how their products work.
- [6:39] Moving from the lab to commercialization
- [13:47] How a nerdy discussion in a bar led to research in Yellowstone National Park and ultimately the company AST.
- [18:42] How Rusty and the team funded their research along the way, through to starting a company.
- [22:41] Raising a $3.4 million Series A from Australian strategic investor and agricultural producer Twynam Group.
- [24:13] Options for combatting drought, and precious water as “the most important thing of our lifetimes”.
- [27:22] Selling to commodity crop farmers – corn, soy, organic certifications.
- [30:54] Biological vs synthetic chemical crop inputs explained.
- [33:51] AST approach versus Indigo Agriculture that’s raised over $100 million. Two pioneering companies using fungal endophytes, two different approaches going to market.
- [38:48] The work AST is doing in India to bring its technology to smallholder farmers in India.
- [40:55] The logistics of distributing agricultural products in India and effective communication through hand singals. Seeing 29-53% yield increases.
- [46:53] Debunking the myth and perception of how it’s very difficult to bring new technology to smallholder farmers, and how the smallholder farmers came up with pricing that was mutually acceptable to the farmers and AST.
Learn more about Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies and catch Rusty’s Ted Talk:
- TEDxRainier: Unlocking the power of symbiosis in a warming world | Rusty Rodriguez
- Fast Company: A Fungus Could Create Corn Crops Strong Enough That We Won’t Need GMOs
- Washington Post: Want drought-resistant plants? Fungus is here to help.
- Wired: Fungus Could Be The Key To Avoiding a Global Food Crisis
- Nature: Food fuelled with fungi
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