Under the hot South African sun…

two young Germans got to know each other in 2015. Engaged as advisors for different agricultural projects, they had both travelled separately to this country, where farmers struggle with drought and other increasing difficulties in adapting to climate change. Talking shop, the two soon discovered that they were on the same wavelength. They considered the continuing global depletion of soil fertility to be the major problem in today’s agriculture – and wanted to do something to halt the downward spiral. Agricultural and plant scientist Jan Ritter from Balingen, Baden-Württemberg, had been toying with the idea of a plant-based soil improver for some time. Jacob Paul Bussmann, a forestry and environmental scientist from Osnabrück, Lower Saxony, was very keen on the idea, and together they continued to develop it until it took shape: how about creating a sustainable seed coating that, ideally, would provide every single seed with all the nutrients it needed to get off to a healthy start in the field, making the plants more resilient from the outset and suppressing fungi and pathogens while simultaneously improving the soil?

They carried out their first tests there and then, with positive results. The two of them set up a company in South Africa, but soon realized it would be very difficult to develop it successfully under the circumstances there. But they had set their sights on achieving their goal – so they returned to Germany. Back home, Jan continued researching and developing the product, while Jacob set about building a network of researchers from universities in Osnabrück and Oldenburg and from several specialized institutes and business enterprises, putting out feelers for funding.

Things were going forward. First, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy awarded the SeedForwardstart-up an EXIST Business Start-up Grant in early 2017. Additional funding came from Europe’s Climate-KIC Accelerator Programme. And when SeedForwardwon the StartGreen Award, presented by the German Environment Ministry within the National Climate Initiative, in late 2017, Ritter and Bussmann knew that their project was nearing completion. The Aloys & Brigitte Coppenrath Stiftung, a recently established foundation, selected SeedForward as its first grant holder.

Things kept going forward, presenting new obstacles to overcome. A promising strategic investor suddenly pulled out, but new partners soon emerged. And then the day came when not only fellow network members or funding institutions called, but representatives from large enterprises who had taken an interest in the company.

In the meantime, the seed coating formulation was continually improved, following extensive experimentation. Large-scale field trials conducted in summer 2018 generated such good results that L. Stroetmann Saat, one of Germany’s leading seed merchants, came on board and included MAISGUARD – SeedForward’sfirst product – in its spring 2019 product portfolio.

And now things are going forward…