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Startup NewLeaf Symbiotics hires Monsanto lead

courtesy NewLeaf Symbiotics

NewLeaf Symbiotics is growing fast.

Formed in 2012, the startup has nearly 40 employees and has hired four executives in the last year.

The latest executive to come on board is Dr. JanneKerovuo, the head of Monsanto’s Microbial Discovery Strategy since 2013. He’ll now be NewLeaf’s Vice President for Research and Discovery.

"I’m really excited about microbials," Kerovuo said. "I’ve been witnessing how well they’ve been working in the past several years, and in my mind, now is the right time to get microbials into agriculture."

Microbials are tiny organisms that live in the soil and naturally help control fungi, bacteria, insects and weeds. NewLeafis focused on creating products that contain beneficial plant bacteria to help fight plant disease and increase crop yields.

CEO Tom Laurita said there is a big demand for microbial products.

"We’re finding there’s actually more interest right now than we can handle as a small company, so we need to be focused and clear on what are the real opportunities and the fastest way to market," he said.

NewLeaf received a U.S. production patent at the end of 2015 and expects to roll out its first two products for soy beans and peanuts by the end of this year. He said corn, wheat and products for other crops are expected in the next 18 months to two years.

The company is located at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s Bio Research & Development Growth Park or BRDG Park. Danforth Center president Jim Carrington said NewLeaf is addressing big issues in agriculture in a sustainable way.

"They represent what’s on the horizon; tapping nature’s solutions to problems we’re dealing with in agriculture like drought and disease," Carrington said.

He said the company is also representative of St. Louis' ag tech ecosystem, which includes talent like Janne Kerovuo.

"Great people will result in great things ... so attracting Janne to the company is a really big deal,” Carrington said.

NewLeaf doesn’t expect to leave BRDG Park anytime soon. Laurita said production likely will take place elsewhere, but research and development will continue to take place at the park for sometime to come.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.