Technology Crops International LLC
Technology Crops International LLC (TCI) is a premier supplier of identity preserved, specialty crop derived ingredients and oils used in functional food, pharmaceuticals, lubricants, plastics, cosmetics and specialty chemicals. The company’s mantra highlights its dedication to delivering a bio-diverse range of vertically-integrated crop management and oversight services that no other specialty oilseed crops company has yet innovated: ‘From Soil to Oil. Naturally.’
Andrew Hebard, founder and CEO, began the company in 2004 and has dedicated his career to the development of sustainable, reliable and assured supply chains of specialty crop-derived materials. “Specialty crops will not always be the most profitable or the easiest to grow as they require a higher level of oversight and management, but they offer a valuable diversification into sustainable, stable markets, all of which can greatly enhance the biodiversity of farms and deliver quality of life ingredients to consumers,” Hebard explains.
From the initial planting to harvest and delivery, TCI is directly involved in all processes of its product — 365 days of the year — standing as the backbone of its trademarked Crop Assured 365 traceability and quality assurance standards.
The company’s approach to managing the complete crop supply chain—literally from soil to oil—allows it to support its dedicated growers by providing seeds, advice on how to grow niche crops and agronomic oversight. Once harvested, the crops go to processing facilities where such are made into specialty oils and then are supplied internationally to high-value markets.
In order to yield the highest quality crops, TCI works with growers in both hemispheres and strategically positions its crops around the globe where each is best able to thrive on the natural climate and agriculture of the environment. “There are some companies that do what we do for one specific crop, such as hemp, poppies or milk thistle, but we look to grow a much broader array of specialty crops in strategic regions around the world,” explains Hebard.
Expanding global reach
As a leader in the global marketplace, the company has head offices located in North Carolina and the United Kingdom, as well as a state-of-the-art refinery in Kensington, Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada. TCI employs 50 team members.
Backed by federal and provincial government support, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) Innovation PEI, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and National Research Council (NRC)-IRAP, as well as supported by the Prince Edward Island Bio-Alliance, TCI constructed a $10 million, 25,000-square-foot oilseed processing plant, including a refinery, analytical lab and packaging facility at its Kensington site in 2009.
TCI was initially attracted to PEI, because of its strong agricultural industry and its temperate, maritime climate, which is conducive to a majority of the company’s specialty crops. “The island is very suited to the high value crops niche market, as shipping commodity produce can be very expensive,” says Hebard. “Plus, growers here are very diligent and want to grow crops that are complementary to potato production. By hiring local farmers and completing the processing and packing right here in PEI, we’ve kept a lot of workers in the area and the province has experienced significant economic benefit.”
To remain a leader in the industry, innovation and quality of service and of products is a top priority at TCI. “We are fully integrated from genetics to final product,” says Andrew. “One of our main value propositions is that we manage risk throughout the supply chain and, where possible, away from our customers by providing products that meet our Crop Assured 365 designation.”
In order to produce products that the market requires, TCI works directly with end customers to grow and process specialty crops that meet specific needs. TCI partners with clients to understand individual needs and concerns and then find the best crop and most suitable genetics to deliver a solution. Once TCI have identified the most appropriate crop and seed, the company enters into production contracts with farmers to grow these non-commodity crops for profitable and sustainable markets that place a premium on having an assured supply.
At the core of all TCI products and processes are sustainability and environmental awareness. TCI works to address all the sustainability requirements of its partners and stakeholders, throughout the supply chain. The company’s contract grown crops are produced under strict identity-preserved protocols - following organic or non-GM requirements - and all crops comply with TCI’s Crop Assured 365 production standards.
One of TCI's areas of expertise is in bringing new and emerging crops to market through selection, agronomic scale-up and full commercialization. TCI works closely with customers to stay abreast as to what products will be in demand in the coming years. “Most of what we grow is on contract, so what we plant this year will be harvested next year and used the year after,” explains Hebard. “Because of the nature of the business, we always have to be looking two to three years out.”
With mainstream sources of omega-3 fatty acids coming under increasing challenges, either from sustainability or supply chain availability vantages as in fish oils, or from efficacy challenges as in flaxseed or chia oils, TCI saw an opportunity. Ahiflower is a novel entrant in a dynamically growing niche market as a completely natural plant-derived source of omega-3’s.
After 10 years of screening and selecting plant species that produce a seed oil that demonstrates enhanced nutritional benefits over existing plant sources, the company has trademarked this latest innovation to the health food market. Ahiflower is a sustainable, plant-based source of omega-3 essential fatty acids designed to meet the increasing global demand. TCI has funded scientific studies that prove its effectiveness and biological advantages over other plant derived omega-3 sources.
The global market for omega-3 fatty acids continues to grow at approximately 15 percent per annum and is estimated to reach nearly $4 billion in the next two years, according to industry sources. There is increasing pressure to develop a sustainable, safe and efficacious product that can meet the demands of industry.
“The opportunity was to find a plant that could deliver omega-3 fatty acids that meets market demands, is price competitive and that is derived from a reliable and scalable supply chain,” explains Hebard. “The new product also had to appeal to today’s consumers and deliver higher biological activity than commodity oils like flax, chia and hemp. It had to be sustainable, natural and efficacious, as well as have superior health benefits. We looked around the plant kingdom globally, from Mongolia to Patagonia, and discovered Ahiflower.”
By 2015 the company will be producing commercial Ahiflower oil from its PEI facility. The specialty oil, which is non-GM, natural, sustainable and fully traceable back to field it is grown in, stands to be a game-changer in the dietary supplement and food ingredient market.
In addition to Ahiflower, TCI also produces unique products such as meadowfoam seed oil, which provides moisturizing and ultra violet protection properties integral to personal care products and borage, an economical source of gamma-linolenic acid, a plant-derived omega-6 fatty acid, for the health food and dietary supplement markets.
Making room for high value crops
Globally, the company is experiencing steady growth—with concentrated success in the North American and European markets. However, as biodiversity on farms continues to decrease and the commoditization of agriculture increases, one of the biggest challenges TCI faces is finding growers who are willing to invest in niche market, high value crops.
“We are competing for acres with lower value, easier-to-produce commodity crops,” explains Hebard. “We try to remove as many of the obstacles to producing new crops as possible for growers that want to incorporate specialty crops into their rotations. Providing best in class genetics, strong agronomic support, excellent customer service and favorable pricing terms all help in the decision-making process.”
The company has recently seen important changes in the production habits from growers in China—particularly from where small niche crops, such as herbal remedy products, were being produced.
“Specialty crops are becoming harder to source in China because rural population and farm economics are changing,” Hebard says. “China appears to be trending toward more commoditized crop agriculture, which presents Western farmers with a bigger opportunity to increase their market share of high-value products that were originally coming from the Eastern Hemisphere, and where quality control, product authenticity, and reliability are often questioned.”
As global commodity crop agriculture continues to expand, TCI continues to explore new opportunities for specialty and niche market crops to provide reliable, sustainable, traceable raw materials to companies that formulate products around. Technology Crops International has great ambitions to further deepen and broaden its activity in specialty crops and is dedicated to providing the highest quality products to clients around the globe.