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In its report on Christmas trading, Tesco revealed that its sales of organic produce  rose by an astonishing 39% in December 2006. This growth is reflected in retailers across the country. What the figures don’t address however, is the challenge of growing organic produce to the supermarkets’ standards without the aid of agrochemicals.    

Scientific solutions to these problems aren’t always welcomed by the public or, by extension, the retailers, as the GM food producers have found, but Food Technology Enterprise Hub client Terraseed Ltd may have found an answer, in what looks at first glance like a giant laminating machine.    

Put simply, lines of seeds are placed on to a paper sheet and fixed in place with a plastic cover. Holes drilled precisely over the seed line allow moisture in and the germinating seedling out. To plant, the mat is just rolled out over the field, the plastic keeps the seeds (and the soil) warm and moist and the paper suppresses weeds and pests. Trials have shown the new technology increases yields by up to 50% over conventional techniques David Holloway, Terraseed’s Founder and Technical Director, takes up the story:    

“I’m basically a plant scientist. The idea for Terraseed came out of my experience working within the Ministry of Agriculture and the big supermarkets to develop ways of taking chemicals out of the growing chain; it became clear that the big retailers had a power that the government does not, to influence the way crops are grown.”    


Terraseed’s development was helped by a change in the political climate – at the same time that David and his clients were looking at the question of agrochemicals, the EU was too - with the result that over 60% of the all the agrochemicals in common use in the UK have now been withdrawn and the majority of the remainder are still under review. “There was pressure on growers from both sides - retailers were saying ‘use fewer pesticides’ and the EU were saying ‘more than half of your pesticides are illegal anyway’. So there was obviously going to be a big problem.    

“I started to think about what could replace chemicals in crop production and in particular about barrier techniques as opposed to chemical or genetic solutions. The more research I did the more I realised that there was a gap in  the market.”    


Working in a big business environment didn’t help with developing a new entrepreneurial idea however. “There was no structure in the Ministry of Agriculture to do something like this – the only way I could see to go forward was to resign my job and go off and try to raise the capital to develop the ideas myself.”    

David resigned from what he admits was a “pretty comfortable” position,  and formed Terraseed after spending six months researching the idea.     

There was an Enterprise Hub connection from the beginning, “I knew David Parry (a former Hub Director) from earlier in our careers. We had kept in touch, and he was very keen to help. He put me in touch with the Food Technology Hub that led Terraseed to the South East Growth Fund, which supplied £500,000 as part of our second round of funding.”    


Trying to do something radical in agriculture is notoriously difficult –  it is known as a very conservative industry. Terraseed’s market is open to innovation because of the unusual competitive pressures it operates under. Horticultural producers supplying the major supermarkets live in a very pressured environment: supermarkets demand notoriously high levels of quality and service, at extremely keen prices. Like any organism in extreme circumstances, the growers have to adapt constantly to survive.    

It’s this group of growers who are Terraseed’s key customers, and David has worked with them now for five years to perfect the technology. “They have provided us with trial space and time and input to get the product right. They’ve given us a list of criteria that we have to have right for them.”    


Involving the growers at the trial stage has proved to be a smart move,  “As our customers have been involved in the development all along they  are all realistic about where we are and what the product can do.    

“The only real concern now is whether Terraseed is robust enough as a company to take on the industrialisation of the process to cope with the scale our customers will  need. However, our Angel Investors have manufacturing backgrounds and this is where their value really counts - their money ran out relatively quickly but their experience is invaluable!”    

Simon Dale, Food Technology Enterprise Hub Director, commented, “Terraseed’s novel technology and licensing plan have global potential. This product will help address climate change in arid areas while providing simple solutions for organic growers in the UK. They are set to revolutionise the growing market.”

Author: David Holloway

Created Date: 23-03-2007

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