Premier Tech, founded in 1923, has an history paved with a long series of innovations that shaped the company. “Let’s admit that we are far from peat!”, launched Bernard Bélanger, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, at a conference of the Chambre de commerce de Lévis, in 2012. During the conference, discussions were held about the importance of innovation in ensuring the sustainability of Quebec’s manufacturing companies. Why this observation? Because Premier Tech has moved from a horticultural peat production company to a high-tech multinational specializing in value-added horticultural and agricultural solutions, automated industrial systems, water treatment and digital technologies.
If innovation is at the heart of Premier Tech’s DNA, it is because the development of horticultural technologies, mainly active ingredients, has enabled the company to become what it is today. PRO-MIX®, AGTIV®, MYKE® and other brands offering complete product lines for professional horticulture, agriculture or consumers, carry the technologies that have been developed at Premier Tech by dedicated team members.
This article describes how the company, with its desire to offer innovative products that meet the needs of its clients, has been able to implement the investments, the infrastructure and partnerships needed to develop mycorrhizal fungi and other natural active ingredients. It is also the story of the team members who have accomplished what no other company had achieved before. It is a story of vision, passion and opportunity.
During the 20th century, many researchers from around the world studied mycorrhizal fungi. These microorganisms have existed for more than 400 million years and have been at the forefront of the very emergence of the first terrestrial plants. Biologist André Fortin, PhD., a long-time partner of Premier Tech, along with other Quebec researchers, had developed knowledge of mycorrhizal fungi. To date, we have over 10,000 research studies or articles published worldwide on mycorrhizae.
While Premier Tech’s efforts in Innovation, Research and Development (IR&D) have led to the development of mycorrhizal inoculum and its unique process since the early 1980s, the company has partnered with several universities since 1988 (Sherbrooke, McGill, Laval) as well as some biotechnology research companies to begin work on the potential of bacteria in substrates.
In parallel with efforts to develop bacteria, a new market emerged for Premier Tech. By 2008, products for professional producers under the MYKE® PRO brand, were attracting the attention of agricultural producers for organic crops in Western Canada. They then had very few alternatives to inoculate their fields and turned to mycorrhizal fungi formulated in horticultural products. Premier Tech saw this as a stepping stone to this new market and took the opportunity to explore the possibility of building a commercial offer dedicated to agriculture.
In 2010, thanks to major investments by Premier Tech in manufacturing infrastructure and processes enabling a major increase in the production capacity of viable mycorrhizal spores, the company establishes a sales force for the agricultural market and begins building a retail and distribution network.
Initially focused on validating the performance and benefits of mycorrhizal fungi in trials with Western Canadian pulses, the yield increase results are significant. The challenge then was mainly to facilitate the use of mycorrhizal fungi in production systems and machinery. Since many farmers were already using Rhizobium and Bradyrhizobium bacteria in their legume and soy crops, and the compatibility of rhizobia with mycorrhizal fungi already proven by numerous trials, it was decided to concentrate research efforts on the development of rhizobium production at Premier Tech in order to offer a product combining the two microorganisms into a single application. Thus, began the development of a fermenter-based bacterial production platform, less complex and more accessible than mycorrhizal production, but involving new expertise and many developments in product formulation. In 2012, Premier Tech developed a partnership with a well-established Western Canadian marketing firm, Taurus Ag Marketing, to promote its value-added products.
Agricultural market development then turned to the East, Quebec and the Maritimes, with an inoculant for potatoes. Premier Tech signed agreements with major distributors in the sector, such as McCain and Sollio Agriculture (formerly “La Coop Fédérée”). There were many challenges in formulating products for this new market. Equipment and input compatibility had to be verified while increasing crop yields. A potato seed does not have the same behaviour as a soybean or alfalfa seed.
All efforts lead to the creation of the AGTIV® brand and product line in 2015, agricultural inoculants in multiple formulations providing mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobia to field crop and specialty crop producers. Most recent initiatives have mainly led to the development of new formulations in agriculture, such as on-farm or seed treatments using various formulations (powder, liquid, etc.) for a variety of crops.
Premier Tech’s various active ingredients are now present, proven and available in more than 275 products for professional horticulture and agriculture producers and also for consumers, under the PRO-MIX®, AGTIV® and MYKE® brands. PRO-MIX® and MYKE® brands combined represent sales of over 51 million cubic feet of peat with active ingredients each year. Also, nearly one million acres (450,000 hectares) are treated with AGTIV® active ingredients by producers in North America and Europe. All of this thanks to the expertise of Premier Tech’s multidisciplinary teams and the company’s vision, which is firmly focused on the future.
“There are those who seek to create new products. And there are companies like Premier Tech that redefine the very process of innovation.” Pierre Talbot, Senior Vice President Innovation, Premier Tech
In summary, what distinguishes Premier Tech is that we master all the steps in the marketing of an inoculum: from the identification of the bacterium or fungus we want to produce in response to a need, to the production, formulation, sale and field-level monitoring of the producer’s yield.
“From the first innovation step to harvest, we are present.” Martin Trépanier, Scientific Expert Director, Premier Tech