Rootella’s Journey to Global Commercialization

INTERVIEW: Mr. Shu Yang (Country Manager for Groundwork BioAg – China) and Mr. Chad Miller (AGRivested South Africa)

Last month, we proudly announced our product registration and commercialization in China, South Africa, and Argentina. Today, we sat down with our Chinese and South African partners, Shu Yang and Chad Miller, to hear more about what is in store as Groundwork BioAg’s global footprint grows.

Q. Please tell me about yourself, your company, and your partnership with Groundwork BioAg.

A. Shu Yang: My relationship with mycorrhiza began decades ago, while I was working in Germany. After I earned my degrees there, I joined the Sino-German Environmental Technology Center, where I was responsible for introducing German technology and products to the Chinese market. I witnessed the power of microorganisms in environmental protection projects such as wastewater treatment and soil remediation. In 2008, I advised a company producing mycorrhizal products and realized that mycorrhizae were intrinsic to environmental protection. After first reading about Groundwork BioAg, I contacted co-founder Dan Grotsky, and discovered that our perspectives aligned on the potential for the mycorrhizal inoculants market in China. Groundwork BioAg decided to set up a representative office in China at the beginning of 2022, and since then I have acted as Chief Representative.

A. Chad: I come from a tech background, originally focused on the diamond business. Over the years, I shifted away from the chemicals and mining space and followed my passion for climate change and soil. I established Agrivested and dedicated myself to it, sometimes sleeping only three hours a night! I reached out to Dan Grotsky, Groundwork’s CGO, and Agrivested became Groundwork’s exclusive licensed distributor in South Africa, Mauritius, and Swaziland.

Q. It’s great to see Rootella at work in your country. Can you speak about the quality of the results for the types of crops that you’re dealing with?

A. Chad: While we were waiting for registration, I wanted to run as many trials as possible. Because mycorrhiza’s impact stretches across food groups, I targeted companies that grow citrus, tomatoes, pears, stone fruit, maize, soy, sunflower, and additional produce, as they account for the largest shares of commercially grown crops in South Africa. Recently, we did trials on corn and green beans and the results were fantastic. Visually you could see a good 5 cm increase in height and a much healthier plant. I’m seeing a positive response to mycorrhizae across the board. I tell everyone that Groundwork is the only company in the world that can cost-effectively produce this product at scale.

Our next goal at Agrivested BioAg is to align with the key seed players in Africa to utilize our premium concentrated liquid product, Rootella L, for seed treatment and allow farmers to inoculate early during sowing. Once we begin our carbon project initiatives, this will allow for earlier carbon sequestration and for results early in the crop cycle.

A. Shu Yang: We have carried out different trials both on grain crops and cash crops in China, including wheat, corn, cantaloupe, strawberry, and more. All the results showed yield increases at 8% and above. We have also observed that Rootella had a significant effect on the growth of roots (for example corn roots in the images below), which explains the yield increase.

Q. Carbon sequestration, climate change, and sustainable food production – these buzzwords are everywhere now. What is the discourse in South Africa and China on these concepts? 

A. Shu Yang: As you may already know, China recently defined achieving carbon neutrality as a major strategic goal. This means that by 2030, China expects to see significant accomplishments from comprehensive green transformation in economic and social development, with energy efficiency in key energy-consuming industries reaching advanced levels. By 2060, China intends to have fully established a green, low-carbon and circular economy and a clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient energy system. Energy efficiency and the share of non-fossil energy consumption will be over 80%. China will be carbon neutral.

Agricultural carbon sequestration is attracting people’s attention in China. There is growing awareness around the role of agricultural carbon sinks in the global carbon cycle, as well as soil carbon sequestration in increasing soil organic matter and structure to increase crop yield and quality as well as protecting biodiversity and improving the stability of farmland ecosystems.

A. Chad: Sustainability and conservation agriculture awareness is spreading quickly. I recently worked with an agronomist who dedicated approximately 70% of their trials to mycorrhiza this year. They are building a sub-sector entirely focused on carbon credits and minimizing their carbon footprint in South Africa. I see these trends with every major company in South Africa. They have all defined carbon neutrality as a goal and are minimizing chemical inputs while increasing the use of biologicals.

Let me tell you – climate change is very apparent in South Africa. There are lots of flash floods, our winters are colder and longer, our summers are extremely hot, and the temperature fluctuations are accelerating. Our farmers are feeling it. That is why I think South African farmers are exploring a shift toward biologicals. Regenerative farming is something that everyone is interested in, but nobody wants to lose their yields, even in the short term, while they transition to regenerative practices. They want to understand how to minimize chemical fertilizers and transition to a hybrid model. That’s why trials are so important – they offer the actual proof that the mycorrhiza is contributing to sufficient yields. Mycorrhiza is the key to bridging the gap between chemicals and biologicals. Adding carbon credits as a benefit, in addition to the cost-effectiveness of Rootella, will make the biological-hybrid model even more attractive to farmers. Farmers and agronomists are becoming more open to experimenting and they believe in mycorrhiza – it’s entering the mainstream, information is more accessible, and knowledge is power.

Q. Can you share a bit about the future plans for Groundwork in your region?

A. Chad: While I was waiting for the registration process to bear fruit, I laid the groundwork (no pun intended!) for the post-commercialization path. I invested fully in trials and built relationships. I thought, why wait? I could already start the process with my target companies in Southern Africa so that with trials ongoing or with quantifiable results, we can start selling the product once registration is finalized. Now that that’s happened, we’ll continue marketing and investing in relationships in the soil health and carbon arenas as we bring mycorrhizae into the mainstream.

In Mauritius, I have been busy trialing with the Ministry of Sugarcane – their main source of national revenue. This year, they will use Rootella to experiment with organic grows for ethanol fuel. Because of the way taxes are structured, they can use a section of their grow to minimize their chemical intake and go fully organic with mycorrhizae.

In Swaziland, we also have laid the infrastructure for continued relationships with the sugarcane industry as well as with avocado growers. It’s so satisfying to work with good people and build great relationships.

A. Shu Yang: We will definitely be working together with our distributors to boost product sales, targeting first row crops such as corn, wheat and soybean, as well as high-value cash crops, such as strawberries and cotton.  

With plans for localized production for Rootella L, our liquid formula, we plan to maintain our technical leadership in the biostimulant field and expand to cereal crops.

Groundwork BioAg has launched Rootella Carbon in the US this year and likely in Brazil next year. So, we may also consider innovative carbon offers in China as well to benefit every farmer using Rootella.

Just as our company motto states, we will not rest until every hectare of arable land is covered with mycorrhizae and every farmer benefits from higher crop yields and resilience to stress, while consuming fewer resources and regenerating the Earth’s soil.

Q. Is there anything else you think we need to know about mycorrhizae?

A. Shu Yang: Mycorrhizal products belong to biologicals, and we know that biologicals have many advantages, such as environmental friendliness, promoting ecological balance, and making food healthier. However, the disadvantage of biologicals is that their effects are still unclear, and their prices are usually higher than chemicals, so it will take time to promote them. Mycorrhiza is still a new concept in China. There are a few companies registered as mycorrhiza manufacturers, including us. We believe we could realize a significant achievement in China. The potential impact of mycorrhiza extends beyond row crops into reforestation, desertification control and soil remediation in the future.  

A. Chad: The more knowledge and information out there about mycorrhizae – the better. I want farmers to be aware that mycorrhizal inoculants will allow them to expand their operations because mycorrhiza enables them to grow on multiple types of soil, including more mediocre or different soil types – freeing up more soil to do the work of growing food and sequestering carbon. Mycorrhiza mitigates all forms of stress, throughout the range of soil quality.

At AgrivestedBioAg, we understand that success in agriculture is a continuous process that involves diligent trial and error, precise application rates, and the use of effective methods for applying our premium mycorrhizae products. Our commitment goes beyond merely providing exceptional products; we are dedicated to fostering personal relationships with each farmer we serve.