Delavan biotech firm lands Polish potato pact

Delavan biotech firm lands Polish potato pact

By Charles Rathmann, of SBT

A Delavan firm will license its potato crop-acceleration technology to a Polish firm as part of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s sale of F-16 fighter jets to the Polish government.

Quantum Tubers Corp. should be able to grow from a staff of 15 to a staff of 40 and construct additional facilities in Wisconsin as a result of the defense offset deal, according to Quantum Tubers president Robert Britt.

"This started out with NATO, which is requiring Poland to upgrade their military," Britt said. "Poland had put out a request for competition on fighter jets. It went to France, Sweden and the US. Along with the cost of the fighter jets, Poland said the winner would also have to contribute at least 100 percent of the cost of the fighter jets in the form of economic offsets."

The value of the offsets would be measured in terms of an increase in the gross domestic product.

"We did an economic impact study," Britt said. "By putting our project into place, we increase Poland’s GDP by $400 million a year. That’s just not one year. That’s forever."

The projected impact went a long way to balancing off the $3.5 billion cost of the 48 fighter jets.

Quantum Tubers has, since June of 2002, been planning to build the largest bio-manufacturing facility for production of zero-generation, pathogen-free seed potatoes known as minitubers.

The 50,000-square-foot plant, with a capacity of 20 million minitubers per year, would use technology developed with cooperation from the University of Wisconsin and NASA.

Currently in the design phase, the plant would only be the start of the biotech firm’s presence in the state, as dollars from the defense trade-off deal comes home.

The capital provided by Lockheed Martin to fund the Agreko Quantum Tubers, SA of Domaszowice, Poland, license for the potato acceleration technology should allow the Walworth County company to take a leadership role in what promises to be a $100 million agricultural market.

Britt and his Polish counterparts had been trying to find capitalization for the licensing deal even before Lockheed Martin came into the picture.

"Lockheed was almost an accident for us," Britt said. "We were in the process of developing some local funding in Poland for capitalization of the process. Our first reaction was, ‘What do potatoes have to do with fighter jets?’ I sat on that for two days before I wrote a letter to the chairman of Lockheed asking if this fit with what they were doing. I thought, ‘What are we going to do – create fuel for you guys, or spud guns?’"

However, the key to success had more to do with butter than guns. Poland is the world’s third-largest producer of potatoes. Access to Britt’s patented technology could move Poland’s economic needle substantially.

"We have mapped the trigger-point of a potato so we can force it to go through each one of the primary growth cycles that it needs to go through, and do it on our own life cycle arrangement," Britt said. "We do that in a closed, atmosphere-controlled facility. We trick the potato into thinking it as gone through spring, summer and fall in just a few days, so we can get about nine turnovers a year out of our building."

Britt said that while the sale of Lockheed Martin jets closed Dec. 28 of last year, the Polish government committee was still reviewing the offset agreement, which should be finalized within weeks.

A representative of Lockheed Martin did not return a phone call regarding the transaction.

Jan. 24, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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