News & Media

Engineering firm develops biological products

Written by: Robert Arnason

The company created the two bio-inoculant strains with the help of researchers from the University of Manitoba

A Manitoba engineering firm has set its sights on the crop production industry.

Normally, engineers spend their workdays on construction projects, environmental assessments and so forth. But KGS Group, of Winnipeg, has developed two biological products that help plants pull more phosphorus out of the soil.

“KGS Group in collaboration with University of Manitoba researchers have developed two bio-inoculant strains, KGS-2 and KGS-3, to help farmers tackle the many challenges they face today in an environmentally friendly way,” says the KGS Group website.

KGS engineers discovered the beneficial soil bacteria, when they were working on a different project related to agriculture.

They were looking at potential solutions to the phosphorus issue in Manitoba, which became a major issue during the 2000s and early 2010s. The public and policy makers were concerned about the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg and runaway growth of algae in the sixth largest lake in Canada.

KGS was hired to study the problem. The engineers wondered if soil bacteria could be part of the answer, by cutting phosphorus losses from cropland and reducing the amount of phosphorus entering the lake.

“We were looking for biological solutions. And we stumbled across (the soil bacteria),” said Stan Lozecznik, a senior environmental engineer with KGS Group. “Both of the strains are phosphate solubilizing bacteria.”

In other words, the bacteria make soil phosphorus more available to the crop and stimulate plant growth.

For the last five years, Lozecznik has collaborated with University of Manitoba scientists to study the soil bacteria. They analyzed the genes of the bacteria and conducted greenhouse tests, plot trials and field trials, to see if the bio-stimulants would improve crop yield.

On its website, KGS Group says the bacteria help with seedling vigour, reduce fertilizer requirements and reduce phosphorus losses from fields.

As an added benefit, they are simple and cheap to produce.

“The underlying technology is identical to that used for other large-scale fermentations such as beer making,” said John Sorensen, of the department of chemistry at the U of M.

KGS has experimented with ways to deliver the biological products to the crop, including seed coating, in-furrow applications and foliar sprays.

Through the tests, they learned that KGS-3 has some anti-fungal properties.

“KGS-3 is also a bio-fungicide… with demonstrated ability to reduce various crop diseases,” the University of Manitoba said in a release promoting the biological products.

Lozecznik said they tested the biological on fusarium, blackleg, verticillium wilt and other crop pathogens.

“Last year we did 350 acres in Saskatchewan, with a great success on disease suppression in canola.”

KGS Group has patented the two strains in Canada and the United States. Last fall, they submitted paperwork to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for licensing.

KGS Group is now seeking a partner to get the products to market.

“We are in conversations with some companies. We have submitted some proposals,” Lozecznik said. “We recognize that we’re an engineering company…. We have advanced the technology to the point (of) the pre-commercialization state. And we would like to be in the commercialization stage… I think it (has) a huge future with the large crops. The three main crops — canola, wheat and corn. Perhaps soybean.”

The bio-stimulants could also be beneficial for vegetable and horticultural crops, including flowers.

There is definitely an opportunity, as Fortune Business Insights has predicted the global market for bio-stimulants will hit US$5.3 billion in 2027, up from $2.5 billion in 2019. Demand is growing because farmers are looking to cut fertilizer costs or comply with new regulations around the use of phosphorus and nitrogen.

But biologicals and bio-stimulants for agriculture has become a crowded marketplace. Hundreds, if not thousands of new entrants, are trying to commercialize products.

Plus, the major players in crop science industry — BASF, Bayer, Corteva, Syngenta — are also developing biological solutions.

The competition is intense but KGS Group may have an advantage in the Canadian ag market, because the biologicals were developed in Western Canada and have been tested on Canadian crops.

“Some of the (products) coming on the market, they were coming from California and India. I couldn’t understand why we have to be working with that and not with our own (soil bacteria) from Canada and from the Prairies,” Lozecznik said.


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Photo source: | University of Manitoba | KGS Group 

April 28, 2022