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Customers are willing to pay a premium only on high quality, fresh sliced pears

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Customers are willing to pay a premium only on high quality, fresh sliced pears

Recently, a willingness-to-pay study has shown that consumers are willing to pay up to 20 cents more for high-quality, sliced, fresh packed pears treated with a ripening compound compared to sliced fresh packed pears with no treatment.

The study shows the promise of the slicing segment to the pear industry: Utilization of small-sized pears, and the proposed premium they could bring, has the potential to add up to $100 million to the financial bottom line of the pear industry in the next five years.

The problem with pear consumption

The North American fresh pear industry has cited increasing per capita consumption as its top priority year after year. However, customer habits, biology of the fruit and perhaps the current fruit packing and sale infrastructure stand in the way.

Pears are unique in that they are harvested mature but unripe, and the fruit is then conditioned to ripen. Conditioning is a process in which pears are exposed to cold temperature (less than 1 degree Celsius) for a pre-determined length of time, which is cultivar-specific (Sugar & Basile, 2013). To deter losses during handling, shippers and retailers tend to sell pears without conditioning, resulting in less than desirable fruit and diminishing repeat purchase by consumers.

Pre-ripened or conditioned pears, on the other hand, attract repeat customers, and it is evident in their increased willingness to pay for a consistent quality fruit (Zhang et. al, 2010; Gallardo, 2011; Gallardo et al., 2011).

The early 2000s brought a timely gift for the apple industry in the form of 1-methycyclopropene (1-MCP) or SmartFresh, just as consumers were getting disenchanted with the quality of the fruit on the shelf. 1-MCP binds to the ethylene receptors and makes the fruit insensitive to ethylene, prolonging its storage and improving the shelf life and quality of the fruit.

Not to be left behind, the pear industry, which has not seen any major leaps in consumption over the last several decades, tried using 1-MCP in the hopes of delivering a perfect piece of fruit to the consumer. 1-MCP worked in blocking ripening in pears. In fact, it worked too well. Pears treated with 1-MCP failed to ripen consistently after they were removed from the controlled atmosphere (Argenta et al., 2016; Wang et al., 2015; Chiriboga et al., 2013; Watkins, 2006). No amount of conditioning or exogenous ethylene could rectify the situation.

The quest for a perfect slice of pear

The difficulties of mass producing perfect fresh sliced pears were best summarized by Tony Freytag, chief executive officer of Crunch Pak, a Cashmere, Washington-based operation that controls over 50 percent of the nearly $500 million fresh sliced apple market, during a presentation at the 2013 Washington State Horticultural Association annual conference (Warner, 2013). A juicy, melting pear at 6- to 8-pound firmness range is good for eating but will turn to mush when sliced.

Pear fruit with slightly higher firmness of 8- to 10-pounds has good flavor but bruises heavily when sliced, and fruit with 12- to 14-pound firmness, while great for slicing, has no flavor and dries out quickly. The sweet spot may be at the 10- to 12-pound range, but achieving a 21-day shelf life like apples would not be feasible (Freytag 2013). Anyone who deals with pears knows that it is easy to sort the fruit by size but not by firmness. It seems like an insurmountable issue.

Closer to reality

A technology patented by Washington State University (Dhingra and Hendrickson, 2017) shows increasing potential for the predictable and consistent ripening of the pear fruit treated with 1-MCP. As a first application, we evaluated if we could ripen a 1-MCP treated pear after slicing.

The preliminary results were very encouraging with the 1-MCP treated fruit: slicing and then treating the fruit with the ripening compound resulted in ethylene production at five times that of the 1-MCP treated fruit control. With this result, we partnered with Crunch Pak, and supported by the Washington State Department of Agriculture and USA Pears, we produced and evaluated fresh sliced pears. The shelf life was more than 21 days; however, the ripening compound treatment resulted in the production of sugars and typical pear aroma within three days of packaging.

The willingness-to-pay study that followed, conducted at the Portland Food Innovation Center, showed that it is critical to focus on quality.

Proof is in the slice, so to speak

For any commodity, the real proof that a product has any value is when a customer is willing to put their money where their mouth is. Analysis of the responses obtained from 120 participants in the study revealed that people who liked sliced pears were willing to pay up to 20 cents more per 2-ounce packet for pears treated with the ripening component over untreated pears (Ikiz et al – in review).

Overall, that is about 46 percent more than the retail prices for a 2-ounce bag of sliced apples. The consumer sample who participated in the study demanded healthful and convenient products. Fresh sliced pears have the potential to provide all these advantages and enable a vertical jump in consumption.

The analysis revealed that fresh sliced pears were liked by consumers who prefer locally grown products, buy at conventional grocery stores and consider as important labels indicating certified organic, healthfulness, sustainable agriculture, food safety, non-GMO and eco-labels. In general consumers in our sample who liked fresh packed sliced pears consumed Anjou, Bartlett and Asian pears more frequently compared to the consumers who disliked fresh packed sliced pears. If this study is any indication, any compromise on quality can deal a further death blow for pear consumption.

The key is quality

Time and again, the ability to deliver consistent superior quality triumphs in the market place. Placing a bad product on the shelf has its perils, especially as a younger generation demands convenience and consistent quality. Another misstep can be a slippery slope for the pear industry in particular; the industry has not seen a major upswing in consumer purchases due to lack of novel offerings and competition from other fruit, such as berries and fruit-derived products, for several decades.

Based on preliminary calculations derived from personal communications with some pear industry members, it has been estimated that the value of a single pear fruit at 14 cents increases to $1.14 when sliced. The fresh sliced apple industry is currently valued at about $500 million with exponential increase in demand over the next decade. The projections predict that a high-quality fresh sliced pear market could become a $100 million market in the next five years.

An opportunity to add millions of dollars to the pear industry’s financial bottom line beckons. •

– by Amit Dhingra and Karina Gallardo

The $363,000 study by Amit Dhingra and Karina Gallardo received funding from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and USA Pears, a federal marketing board. Amit Dhingra, Ph.D., is an associate professor of genomics and biotechnology in Washington State University’s Department of Horticulture in Pullman, Washington. Karina Gallardo, Ph.D., is an associate professor and Extension economist at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center.

References

Sugar, D., and Basile, S. R. (2013). Integrated ethylene and temperature conditioning for induction of ripening capacity in ‘Anjou’ and ‘Comice’ pears. Postharvest Biology and Technology, 83, 9-16. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.postharvbio.2013.03.010
Zhang, H., Gallardo, R. K., McCluskey, J. J., & Kupferman, E. M. (2010). Consumers’ willingness to pay for treatment-induced quality attributes in Anjou pears. Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 35, 105–117.
Gallardo, R. K. (2011). Choice experiments’ findings: A tool for fruit agribusiness managers decision making. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, 14, 95–110.
Gallardo, R. K., Kupferman, E., Colonna, A. (2011). Willingness-to-pay for optimal Anjou pear quality. HortScience, 46, 452–456.
Argenta, L.C., Mattheis, J.P., Fan, X., Amarante, CVT. Managing ‘Bartlett’ pear fruit ripening with 1-methylcyclopropene reapplication during cold storage. Postharvest Biology and Technology 2016, 113:125-130.
Wang, Y., Sugar, D. 1-MCP efficacy in extending storage life of ‘Bartlett’ pears is affected by harvest maturity, production elevation, and holding temperature during treatment delay. Postharvest Biology and Technology 2015, 103:1-8.
Chiriboga, M-A., Saladie, M., Gine Bordonaba, J., Recasens, I., Garcia-Mas, J., Larrigaudiere, C.. Effect of cold storage and 1-MCP treatment on ethylene perception, signalling and synthesis: Influence on the development of the evergreen behaviour in ‘Conference’ pears. Postharvest Biology and Technology 2013, 86:212-220.
Watkins C.B. The use of 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) on fruits and vegetables. Biotechnol Adv 2006, 24:389-409.
Warner, G. Pear slicing is not perfected yet. In Good Fruit Grower. Edited by. Wenatchee, WA: Washington State Fruit Commission; 2014:16. vol 65.
Dhingra, A., Hendrickson C. Control of ripening and senescence in pre-harvest and post-harvest plants and plant materials by manipulating alternative oxidase activity. US Patent 2017, 9,591,847.
Ikiz, D., Gallardo, K., Hewitt, S., Dhingra, A. Assessing Consumers’ Preferences and Willingness to Pay For Novel Sliced Packed Fresh Pears: A Latent Class Approach. 2017 – In review.

UPDATE: Phytelligence Raises $11.95m Towards $16m Series B

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UPDATE: Phytelligence Raises $11.95m Towards $16m Series B

**UPDATE: Added additional Avrio Capital investment of $5 million.**

Agricultural biotechnology and micropropagation company Phytelligence has raised $11.95 million of a potential $16 million Series B. The company announced an initial close of $6.95 million in early July and increased that by $5 million when Avrio Capital committed in late August. The company still expects to reach $16 million total according to an email from Phytelligence, closing in early September.

This round was led by Cowles Company, a family-owned investor out of Spokane, WA with investments in media, clean tech, and some agriculture, among other areas. Also participating in the round was WRF Capital, the investing arm of the Washington Research Foundation.

“The decision to invest in Phytelligence was an easy one to make once we saw the tremendous gap between the current nursery capabilities and the needs of the modern grower,” said Steve Rector, CFO of Cowles Company.

Phytelligence’s patented and trademarked MULTIPHY process enables apples, cherries, peaches, pears, grapes, hops, berries and nuts to grow five times faster with fewer inputs using a non-soil, nutrient-dense growing medium. This speeds up the process for growers to get new, designer fruit varieties like Honeycrisp apples and cotton candy grapes to market as well as alleviating age-old industry bottlenecks. Growers traditionally had to wait just to be able to obtain rootstock for new crops.

Now, Phytelligence provides genetically-verified and virus-free trees and rootstock to farmers in a sector long-plagued by a lack of transparency. CEO Ken Hunt says that in the past, 10% of apple trees sold were mislabeled as to their type.

Phytelligence technology spun out out of Washington State University as founder and CSO Professor Amit Dhingra was woking with local Washington farmers to develop new apple varieties using micropropagation. He founded Phytelligence when the demand from farmers became too great to meet in an academic setting. Now the company offers tissue culture and genetic testing for trees already in the field, as well as selling rootstock and plants.

Phytelligence will use the new funds to further expand its propagation capacity including taking on more greenhouse space.

“We’re also spending a tremendous amount of time and money to constantly improve the process — looking at robotics; looking at the ability to do grafting in a tissue culture lab with a younger plant to speed the process,” said CEO Ken Hunt, who joined the company in 2016.

In addition to being the only genetically-verified rootstock provider, Phytelligence is also always looking for the next great apple variety, but Hunt says despite Phytelligence’s quick pace for a tree-grower, these things cannot be rushed.

“Nature is only so fast. I feel like we’ve got the tools and the ability to make very good breeding selections that will make the discovery of the next Honeycrisp really fast. You just gotta sit there and wait for the plants to grow.” Even after a winning variety is discovered, much more breeding and cultivation is required to reach critical mass to bring the new variety to market. Hunt says that the fastest possible timeline for a new apple variety is seven to 10 years.

Since founding in 2012, the company has grown to around 70 employees with greenhouse space in Washington and a tissue culture lab in Oregon. Dhingra also still runs an R&D lab at Washington State University and Phytelligence has right of first refusal to any new tech developed there.

Uniquely, much of the company’s previous funding came from the industry including various farming groups along with four leading nurseries.

“When I started the company, I was grateful that the industry was the first to come to the table with financial support,” Dhingra told AgFunderNews in 2016. “Phytelligence came from the industry as growers defined what their problems were and through their support and guidance we were able not only to develop solutions for them but to test them and improve on them. In many ways, this is the true definition of a democratic process: from the industry, by the industry and for the industry!”

Phytelligence has raised $12.6 million total to date.

Phytelligence Welcomes Director Of Global Sales, Berries And Nuts; Adds Matt Shanks To Growing Team

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SEATTLEJan. 12, 2017PRLog — Phytelligence, the leader in agricultural technology revolutionizing food crops, has announced the addition of Matt Shanks as Director of Global Sales and Business Development to the growing company roster. Shanks comes to Phytelligence from Oro Agri where he was the Pacific Northwest Area Manager and honed his experience by working one-on-one with some of the largest growers and distributors in the industry.  Prior to that, he owned his own agricultural business for 17 years that extended into Mexico, Chile and China.

As Director of Global Sales, Shanks will help Phytelligence expand their clean, true-to-type plant materials to the rapidly growing berry and nut markets both locally and internationally. Shanks’ background in sales within the agriculture industry, and specifically within the berry industry, is a great match for the growing Phytelligence.

“I joined Phytelligence because I’ve worked with growers my entire career and I’ve seen first hand the issues they have obtaining quality plant material,” said Shanks. “The nursery industry has been notoriously stagnant and I believe Phytelligence is doing the growers a great service by using technology to provide stronger plants, on a quicker timeline. I’m looking forward to bringing Phytelligence plants to berry and nut growers around the globe.”

Phytelligence is based in Seattle, Washington with a research and development lab in Pullman, Washington and a tissue culture lab in Portland, Oregon. Over the last year, Phytelligence has grown their workforce to over 50 full-time employees and expanded their footprint to accommodate over 20 million plants in tissue culture at their Portland location. With their official expansion into the berry and nut markets, Phytelligence will provide clean, true-to-type plant materials across a wide range of varieties including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, hazelnuts and almonds.

About Phytelligence

Phytelligence is an agricultural biotechnology company that is revolutionizing food crops. Utilizing its proprietary growing techniques to provide superior quality crops, Phytelligence enables higher grower profit by increasing speed to harvest while reducing input costs. Phytelligence provides additional value to food crop growers and plant breeders through the application of advanced genetics enabling delivery of accurate plants, disease screening, plant repository services, securing of intellectual property, and the ability to co-develop new varieties of food crops. In addition, Phytelligence has a growing pipeline of biological and compound solutions aimed at improving returns throughout the food crop value chain.

Phytelligence was founded by Dr. Amit Dhingra in 2012 out of his Horticulture Genomics and Biotechnology Research laboratory at Washington State University and is headquartered in Seattle with offices in Pullman, Washington and Portland, Oregon.  In 2016, Phytelligence expanded their footprint including securing an 8-acre Seattle-based greenhouse space and a Portland-based tissue culture lab. Currently, Phytelligence has 50 employees with immediate plans to continue hiring in the near future.

Phytelligence Sells Out Entire Capacity for Spring 2017 Orders

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Phytelligence, a platform agricultural biotechnology company that is revolutionizing the way food crops are grown, today announced the closing of their Spring 2017 booking season, turning away over 1 million in unfulfilled plant requests due to selling out their entire plant capacity. Despite expanding their volume 10 times over from 2015 to 2016, Phytelligence sold out of their available plant stock for the Spring 2017 season. The company is rapidly increasing capacity to support growers and remedy the severe shortage of quality rootstock in the industry. Phytelligence is already booking orders for Spring 2018 and expects a short selling window as growers scramble for viable plants.

 

Founder and Chief Science Officer Amit Dhingra said, “I founded Phytelligence in 2012 to solve growers problems, including the scarcity of good quality plant materials and rootstock. We will continue to grow at a rapid pace until we have serviced our grower customers’ needs.”

 

Phytelligence began the year strong by establishing their Seattle headquarters, starting the Portland tissue culture lab, and pivoting the Pullman location to focus on discovery and genetics. In just 5 months, sales for Phytelligence are already four times what was achieved the entire year in 2015.

 

Selling for the Spring 2018 season is underway as Phytelligence looks to take advantage of their new increased plant capacity. Customers looking for rootstock should plan to book soon before Spring 2018 is sold out.

 

Phytelligence currently offers virus clean, genetically true to type, healthy plants in the following crops:

  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Cherry
  • Blueberry
  • Strawberry
  • Raspberry
  • Grape
  • Almond
  • Hops

The company encourages growers to contact Tim O’Brien at 206-719-5317 or timobrien@phytelligence.com for more information on available plants.

 

About Phytelligence

Phytelligence is a platform agricultural biotechnology company that is revolutionizing the way food crops are grown. Utilizing its proprietary growing techniques to provide superior quality crops, Phytelligence enables higher grower profit by increasing speed to harvest and reducing input costs. Phytelligence provides additional value to food crop growers and plant breeders through the application of advanced genetics enabling 100 percent guaranteed delivery of accurate plants, disease screening, plant repository services, securing of intellectual property, and the ability to co-develop new varieties of food crops. In addition, Phytelligence has a growing pipeline of biological and compound solutions aimed at improving returns throughout the food crop value chain.

 

Phytelligence was founded by Dr. Amit Dhingra in 2012 out of his Horticulture Genomics and Biotechnology Research laboratory at Washington State University and is headquartered in Seattle with offices in Pullman, Washington and Portland, Oregon.

 

###

 

Contact:

Ashley Ennis

Director of Marketing and PR for Phytelligence

ashleyennis@phytelligence.com

(206) 300-9891

 

 

 

 

Phytelligence Ramps Up Portland Tissue Culture Lab, Pullman Lab to Focus on Genetics, Repository and Discovery Activities

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Phytelligence, a platform agricultural biotechnology company that is revolutionizing the way food crops are grown, today announced the transfer of all tissue culture activity from their Pullman location to their newly-opened Portland lab.

Due to faster than anticipated throughput and lower costs at the Portland facility, the decision was made to invest in growing the Portland location sooner than originally anticipated, and change the focus of the Pullman lab exclusively to genetic analysis, repository services, and research for the discovery of new products and technology. As part of the expansion of the Portland lab, many of the Pullman lab employees will have the option to transfer to the Portland location as jobs become available.

In April, Phytelligence moved into the 12,000-square foot PacTrust facility adjacent to the Oregon Business Park. Since that time, production has been increasing to meet skyrocketing demand and solve the rootstock bottleneck issue plaguing the food crop industry. Phytelligence has expanded rapidly since solidifying their skilled agricultural executive team, establishing their Seattle headquarters and greenhouse space, and opening the aforementioned Portland lab. Their current potential plant capacity exceeds 29 million plants per year.

About Phytelligence

Phytelligence is a platform agricultural biotechnology company that is revolutionizing the way food crops are grown. Utilizing its proprietary growing techniques to provide superior quality crops, Phytelligence enables higher grower profit by increasing speed to harvest and reducing input costs. Phytelligence provides additional value to food crop growers and plant breeders through the application of advanced genetics enabling 100 percent guaranteed delivery of accurate plants, disease screening, plant repository services, securing of intellectual property, and the ability to co-develop new varieties of food crops. In addition, Phytelligence has a growing pipeline of biological and compound solutions aimed at improving returns throughout the food crop value chain.

 

Phytelligence was founded by Dr. Amit Dhingra in 2012 out of his Horticulture Genomics and Biotechnology Research laboratory at Washington State University and is headquartered in Seattle with offices in Pullman, Washington and Portland, Oregon.

###

 

Contact:

Ashley Ennis

Director of Marketing and PR for Phytelligence

ashleyennis@phytelligence.com

(206) 300-9891

Ken Hunt Named as Phytelligence CEO

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Seattle Business Magazine – http://www.seattlebusinessmag.com/ken-hunt

Ken Hunt was recently named CEO of Phytelligence, an agricultural biotech company based in Seattle with offices in Pullman, WA and Portland, Oregon. Hunt is the former CEO of ag biotechnology company Anawah, a TILLING® technology company which sold to Arcadia BioSciences, Inc. which subsequently went public in May 2015 and was Executive Vice President at Paradigm Genetics and member of the key executive team, later acquired by Monsanto. Phytelligence, a platform agricultural biotechnology company that is revolutionizing the way food crops are grown. www.phytelligence.com

WSU Professor’s Start-Up Improves Fruit Tree Growth, Saves Water

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By Richard Springer | India West

One of “coolest parts” of his job, Amit Dhingra, associate professor of horticultural genomics and biotechnology in the molecular plant sciences graduate program at Washington State University, told India-West, “is to work with farmers directly.”

Head of the horticultural genomics laboratory at WSU in Pullman, the Indian American botanist said that a constant complaint he hears from local farmers and nurseries in Washington state is the financial disaster that ensues when they find out, sometimes years after planting, that the rootstocks they ordered were not what they thought.

Growers have to rip out rows and rows of fruit trees and start over from scratch, losing millions of dollars in the process. One rootstock starter normally produces 10-20 plants.

“When farmers plant their trees, 10-40 percent die after planting,” Dhingra said at a recent TED forum, “and, of the ones that do survive, 10-20 percent are not what is ordered (due to) mix-ups.”

The farmers, he added, “have to put their money down, and wait for the fruit trees to arrive three to five years later.”

What if one could prevent mix-ups by testing the DNA of each plant before delivery, and in addition, through a soil-free multiplication system called tissue culture, multiply the number of plants produced and cut the time period for their growth?

“When I joined WSU, there was little gene-based information on apples, pears and cherries, so I initially mapped the entire DNA, or genome, of apples, pears and cherries,” Dhingra told the Capital Press of Pullman recently.

He said he led the U.S. research on apples in collaboration with Italian scientists and the results were published in 2010. In June 2013, he released the genomes of Golden Delicious apples, Comice pears, Stella sweet cherries and one bitter and one sweet almond, the Capital Press reported.

Meanwhile, Dhingra was also working to develop a process to increase the numbers of more robust fruit trees able to be grown in a shorter time.

That’s just what he did; so with some of his graduate students as co-owners and with a license from WSU with full disclosure in place, he founded Phytelligence, which does DNA testing to guarantee authenticity of fruit trees supplied to nurseries and farmers, and supplies more plants cheaper and farther along in the growth process than through traditional methods.

The process uses small pieces of plant, called explants, which are developed soil free in Petri dishes in “clean containers” supported by a proprietary mix of nutrients and artificial light.

The tissue culture system, Dhingra said in the TED talk, “multiplies plants three to five fold within three weeks. We can make 250,000 (two-inch-tall) plants from one starting plant in one year.”

“We don’t use pesticides, fungicides or insecticides,” he added. No fruit varieties are genetically engineered, Dhingra told India-West.

The fruit trees, he said, are “genetically tested to make sure they are true to type, to provide peace of mind (to nurseries and farmers). They are certain to thrive and produce fruit, and for every tree produced, they save up to 50-80 gallons of clean water. For every million trees, up to 80 million gallons of water” are saved — enough to supply the San Francisco Bay Area’s water needs for one year, he told the TED audience.

Phytelligence’s methods, Dhingra told India-West, have applications for reforestation, citrus and nut productions, winemaking and bio-fuel crops.

Through tissue culture, Phytelligence has the potential to make up to several million plants a year. “Every million additional trees can sequester the (amount of) carbon dioxide released by 100,000 cars,” Dhingra pointed out at the TED forum.

Phytelligence produced about 50,000 plants over the last year and expects to produce about 450,000 in 2015, with a target of 1.6 million in 2016.

“We are also developing a licensing model to train people how to do this,” he said. Six of the largest fruit nursery and growers in Washington, Oregon and California have invested in an “A” round of funding in the company.

The Indian American associate professor has a bachelor’s in science from Delhi University, an M.S. in botany from Agra University and a Ph.D. in plant molecular biology that he began at the University of Delhi and finished at Rutgers University in 2000, along the way receiving a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation.

He worked at Rutgers and in research at the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida, before becoming an assistant professor at WSU in 2006.

His parents wanted him to be a doctor, but by the 8th grade in India he was determined to pursue the field of botany. “Plants are the reason why life exists on this planet. They give us oxygen to breathe,” he told the Capital Press.

His wife, Deepika, who has a doctorate in plant molecular biology, works in the WSU genomics lab that her husband heads. They have a ten-year-old daughter.

The Phytelligence technology, he told the Ted forum, “is simple, scalable and sustainable.” And it has one more essential thing, he added, “smart graduate students,” who, along with Dhingra, “want a healthy planet.”

Original Post – http://www.indiawest.com/news/global_indian/wsu-professor-s-start-up-improves-fruit-tree-growth-saves/article_feba8bc2-0922-11e4-bf42-001a4bcf887a.html