By Eric Peterson | Sep 11, 2022
Soil biotechnology products
Founded by a trio of Ph.D. soil microbiologists -- Rich Conant, Matt Wallenstein, and Colin Bell -- Growcentia is commercializing technology the three developed at Colorado State University.
"They were able to discover and develop a consortium of four microbes which were demonstrated to solubilize and mobilize phosphorus in the soil," says Wiley, who joined the company in early 2017.
The approach roots Growcentia firmly in the center of an ongoing paradigm shift in agriculture, he adds. "There's going to be a greater reliance on natural systems to produce crops, both in terms of yield of the crops and the quality of the crops, than in the past where the reliance had become exclusively on fertilizers and the synthetics and the like," says Wiley. "Our company is all about using cutting-edge science to harness and then apply the power of nature to benefit the health of the soil and generate a beneficial plant response."
Growcentia's products fit neatly into the practice of regenerative agriculture. "You improve soil, then it delivers a better plant and a more profitable plant, frankly, for the growers," says Wiley. "It's about spending the time to farm the soil, if you will, to get the soil into its optimum condition -- which is the same thing nature would do."
The company found a fertile market in cannabis for its Mammoth-branded products, now sold online and through nearly 2,000 outlets. Mammoth products can boost yield by about 30 percent across a variety of crops, while simultaneously boosting flavor and nutrition and soil health.
"Cannabis gave us a chance when the company was just born and very young, and in return, we gave them the best biotechnology in the business," says Wiley, noting that the company has always been looking at the broad agricultural market -- estimated at $7 trillion worldwide -- and is currently researching the efficacy of Mammoth products growing lettuce, peanuts, and other crops. "It's an enormous industry ripe for innovation that Growcentia is part of leading."
A sister consumer brand, Mammoth Garden, launched in 2021 and is now available at numerous retailers, including Walmart.
After starting in a small facility and expanding to four separate locations in Fort Collins, Growcentia consolidated operations at a new 30,000-square-foot facility in Loveland in May 2022. Built by McWhinney, the facility has a 3,000-square-foot R&D lab and two separate production areas to prevent microbial cross-contamination.
"We manufacture all of our products in Loveland," says Wiley. "We work with microscopic organisms -- bacteria, in our case. In a laboratory environment, we manufacture inoculant that is then fermented and combined with carriers and other ingredients into the finished product. Everything from propagating the microbial organisms to fermenting the liquid products that we sell to packaging and bottling to warehousing and distribution occurs from our Loveland facility."
Sales increased by about 70 percent in both 2020 and 2021, and Wiley forecasts continued growth in 2022. Loveland is the perfect location to support the dynamic trajectory, he says, crediting CSU and CU Boulder as linchpins in the agtech ecosystem on the Front Range.
"In Colorado, there's a corridor forming that I think will rival anything we see throughout the country when we look at Denver to the Fort Collins area," he touts. "It's really at the center of all the innovation -- I would even say revolution -- that is occurring in agriculture, which is one of the really hot topics out there."
Challenges: "Operating within the global supply chain environment has presented challenges to us," says Wiley.
"We source packaging and active ingredients for our products from all over the world. . . . In the last six to nine months, the global supply chain crisis has begun to have an impact on us. We're managing through that I believe very well, but it's causing us to have to buy much greater quantities of supplies and inputs than we would otherwise."
Opportunities: Wiley sees a lot of potential in the consumer market with the Mammoth Garden brand. "During COVID, there were 10 million people in the United States who took up gardening for the very first time," he says. "There's a piqued or heightened interest in producing food at home, and that is the opportunity that will be first and foremost in front of us"
Controlled environment agriculture is another big opportunity for Growcentia. "Our mission is to change the way the world grows, so we are agnostic as to the plants or the crop," says Wiley. "Our products have been used in hydroponic growing for quite some time, and our recent trial . . . is showing that we're getting 25 percent greater yield on lettuce grown in a hydroponic vertical farming environment. We're also showing 14 days sooner to market."
He adds, "With the big increase in fertilizer prices, a big shift into the biological approach is happening across the board, particularly this year, and we're well-positioned, because we have a seven-year history doing this and a lot of the newer companies don't."
Needs: Employees. "Talent is on top of the list," says Wiley, citing the Front Range as an agtech hub with a deep labor pool. "Fortunately, we have a lot of cards to play when it comes to attracting talent."