Let’s say that a human hair can have a thickness of approximately 80,000 nanometers, or 0.008 centimeters. A size, one might say, small. For a nanoparticle to be considered as such, its diameter must be less than 100 nanometers; in centimeters, 0.00001. These tiny materials are the bet of the Fragatine company Agrostock, a technology that, if well applied, can considerably reduce the consumption of materials, the work done and the ecological footprint in agriculture, in addition to other implications yet to be specified in this incipient way to optimize the world of the field.
Jorge Casas, CEO of Agrostock, explains: “When you bring an element down to nanometer size, it can change what its molecular analog has done all its life”. As an example, he gives the case of calcium, an element commonly used in plant nutrition, but which is difficult to circulate inside a plant. However, in nanoparticle format it can, as a scientific study recently found in India. “They have a spectacular projection and future,” he says of this new technology.
The commitment of this company with almost 80 years of history stems from its innovative vocation. The Casas brothers started this adventure in 1945 as a fruit trading business. Shortly afterwards, in 1956, the current CEO’s grandfather’s interest in researching pests led him to contact Bayer to become distributors of the German brand, a relationship that continues today.
However, the real leap came in 1988, when it was incorporated as a limited company and changed its name to the current Agrostock. From then on, in addition to the purchase and sale of fruit and agronomic consultancy, the company began to produce liquid fertilizers, products containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium – “the minimum a plant needs”, he explains – as well as other components such as vitamins or biostimulants.
Five world patents
It is in this area that Agrostock has begun to grow since then. In fact, the company already has five patents for invention and use worldwide. On this research spirit, Casas returns to the example of calcium: “The whole historical biography of agricultural engineering said that calcium could only be mobilized by the leaf, because it is a very large molecule and the roots did not absorb it. With our patent, we were able to demonstrate that calcium can be assimilated through the roots. That was done in Fraga, we are like that, I don’t know if we are brave or unconscious”, he jokes.
The new facilities, in the Fraga Este industrial park, were built in 2005 and now its catalog is made up of more than 90 references divided into six product ranges such as biostimulants, adjuvants, bioprotectors, soil improvers or chelates. Among them, those labeled under the Nanocrop letterhead, i.e., those that use nanoparticles to perform their functions.
In fact, and returning to nanoparticles, his latest patent, Casas relates that the interest arose after seeing that this technology was beginning to reach different fields, but not agriculture. “We said: we have to get it, and we did. The research, carried out by the Analytical Chemistry Department of the University of Valencia, was also awarded a European project for its development. The idea prospered and a few years ago the result was patented.
Doing the same with much less product
In this case, Agrostock works especially with metal oxides in nanoparticles. To explain its benefits, it gives the example of its Nanocrop product of amino acids with copper. It was in a field in Gernika where they applied this product to stimulate photosynthesis in a plot where the vines did not start up. For this, its formulation used a total of 5 grams of copper, while the usual application uses 2 kilos of the metal for the same surface area, one hectare.
In addition, the effect produced by the application of the nanoparticles went beyond the stimulation of photosynthesis, since the field was not attacked by mildew either, at a time when a plague of the fungus was ravaging the area. However, despite this unexpected result, Casas stresses that his product “is not a fungicide”.
What it does reduce in an obvious way is the environmental impact, since, he points out, 4 kilos of copper in the field can have the same effect as 12 grams in nano format. “By throwing away 500 times less, we do the same,” he adds, referring to the nutritional aspect.
At the moment, the product is gaining “a lot of acceptance” in the market, he says. “It is very new and is very different from everything else out there,” says Casas about this proposal, which meets requirements such as being more efficient with fewer application phases and having to apply a much lower amount of heavy metals to the field to achieve the same objectives.
A commitment to a product that cares for the environment is also reflected in the company’s catalog, since about half of its references are completely suitable for organic farming.
The NASA of the field
This acceptance of Agrostock products, not only of nanoparticles, is reflected in the fact that they have reached more than thirty countries around the world, with a special presence in Latin America. Something that, he explains, also complements well with the national image in the field. “Outside Spain, we are NASA in agriculture,” he stresses.
Beyond these sales abroad, at its Fraga facilities, the company continues its commitment to research; in fact, it has its own laboratory and fields for experimentation, while a greenhouse is being built for testing. “100% of what the company generates goes to R&D,” Casas concludes.