VM Agritech has spent the last five years developing Curezin, a broad-spectrum, copper-and-zinc-based fungicide that thanks to its unique chemistry, won’t lead to pathogenic resistance.
When in-vitro testing by the University of Exeter showed that Curezin was significantly more effective than similar copper-based fungicides, the company knew it had something big on its hands.
That’s why in August 2020, the company reached out to Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) for further help in research and development.
VM Agritech launched in England, but president and CEO Chris Wightman said he knew that if the company were to grow to the point where Curezin could be used on such a scale that it would help end global food shortages – one of the company’s primary goals – then it would have to move to the United States.
Compared to England, the U.S. agriculture industry is much larger and with more available capital to help startup businesses like VM Agritech grow. Paired with the knowledge of world-class experts at institutions like Cornell, the move to the US was an easy choice.
“Nobody is as good as Cornell,” Wightman said. “For us, all roads led to the United States.”
VM Agritech has worked with the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) to continue in-vitro evaluation work, conduct field trials, and research Curezin’s mode of action to determine exactly how the copper-and-zinc-based fungicide, which promises to be more effective and less harmful to the environment than Bordeaux mixture and other copper-based fungicides, works.
P. Marius Weigert, a senior extension associate at SIPS, said he and SIPS director Christine Smart put together a team of researchers, including Kerik Cox, Lori Huberman and Sarah Pethybridge, associate professors in plant pathology and plant-microbe biology, to test Curezin on beets and apples.
The Cornell research so far has shown that Curezin is four to twenty times more effective than other copper-based fungicides. Wightman is understandably thrilled to see independent research confirm Curezin’s effectiveness, but said Cornell’s impact goes far beyond simply testing the product.
“The professors don’t just know their stuff, they know farmers,” Wightman said. “The real-world connections made have been incredibly valuable.”
Weigert introduced the company to the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture (COE) in the fall of 2021 for assistance in facilitating VM Agritech’s move to the United States. The COE assisted VM Agritech with applying for several programs through Empire State Development, including the Excelsior Jobs Program, Economic Development Fund Program and START-UP NY Program.
So impressed by the ecosystem of experts and innovation offered at Cornell AgriTech, VM Agritech decided to lease lab space within the COE, with the goal of building a manufacturing plant at the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park (Tech Farm) in Geneva, a New York state-certified business incubator that provides the space, mentorship and other resources to help early-stage companies grow.
The economic incentive programs, paired with the assistance VM Agritech is receiving from the COE and Cornell, will help the company reach its aggressive goal of having Curezin manufactured and ready for commercial markets by 2023. The proposed manufacturing facility at the Tech Farm would be capable of servicing farms across the East Coast and would serve as a model for additional manufacturing facilities needed to meet the anticipated demand. Wightman said VM Agritech plans to eventually license the technology to other manufacturers so that Curezin can be produced and used around the world.
Wightman added that the technology used to develop Curezin may also have applications in veterinary and human health. Development for those products, when the time comes, will also take place at Cornell.
Wightman isn’t shy about wanting VM Agritech to grow into a large company but said his greater goal is to help increase food production and work to combat global food shortages.
“It’s not just about money,” Wightman said. “It’s about food, it’s about lives."
Jacob Pucci is the marketing and communications coordinator for the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech.
We openly share valuable knowledge.
Sign up for more insights, discoveries and solutions.