Aug 30, 2018For Phytelligence, it’s not just about the apples
Phytelligence was founded in 2012 on work from Washington State University and is perhaps best known for its association with tree fruit.
But, as CEO Ken Hunt says, it’s all about what the growers want. Today, the company works with 11 different crops. It’s done work with nuts in India and is assembling a team of sales vice presidents to head up international sales for its grapes, nuts, berries, tree fruit and citrus divisions.
Phytelligence recently announced the addition of Lee Cobb as global vice president of sales for its berries division. Hunt said the company has already sold more than 100,000 berry plants, but Cobb will strengthen its existing relationships with berry growers and connect with new customers. Cobb has widespread industry experience both farming and leading sales and strategy development in the berry market. He’s previously worked in the berry industry for firms such as Blazer Wilkinson, Bee Branch Farms, and Andrew Smith/Colorful Harvest.
“I’m eager to expand my knowledge of tissue culture practices and further the company’s commitment to delivering high-quality crops across all sectors,” Cobb said.
Hunt said the company already has staff heading up the tree fruit, nuts and grapes divisions. “We’re probably not far away from hiring a global citrus lead,” he said.
Phytelligence works with apples, cherries, pears, citrus, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, almonds, hazelnuts and even hops. The company website lists a number of varieties as its “favorite plant material” – Top Hat and Blue Pearl for blueberries, Tillamook and Early Glow for strawberries, Meeker for raspberries – but staff will propagate any varieties that growers request for which the licensing is available.
“It all starts with the grower,” Hunt said. “The grower says, ‘I need this.’ We say, ‘Great, is it available? What are the rules for growing it?’ And if there is a license that needs to be obtained, then we work with the grower to obtain it, and then we grow it for them.”
Phytelligence is structured to deliver large numbers of plants quickly, but there also is an emphasis on quality. The business is focused on tissue culture of genetically confirmed, true-to-type and disease-free plants.
“Depending on the crop and the region, there are different regulations on what qualifies as a ‘clean plant,’” Hunt said. “Those certified ‘clean plants’ need to be able to track their lineage back to plants that originated from one of these Clean Plant Network facilities. It really just speaks to the quality of the plant and what’s going to enable the grower to grow the best, cleanest plant.”
“All the plants that we work on, we try to make sure that we’re working with plants that originated clean,” Hunt said. Phytelligence also genetically tests the plants for quality before releasing them.
So far, Hunt said the biggest demand from berry growers has been for proprietary berry varieties. Hunt said the company hopes to eventually develop its own proprietary varieties in many of the crops.
It’s up to the growers to decide if top genetics are worth the investment.
“I think growers are smart,” Hunt said. “Growers are good at math. Growers are good at assessing what anything that they purchase is going to bring to their bottom line.
“I think they’re willing to spend money on improved varieties that they believe are going to make them money,” he said. “It could be a superior berry for consumer preference … It can be either consumer reasons or agronomics reasons – things that help them on the farm. If they have an opportunity to be first to market – something that extends the harvest later in the season – I think those are all things that they look at. Our focus to help them capitalize on those opportunities.”
Top photo: Phytelligence CEO Ken Hunt. Photos: Phytelligence