Industry: Bioscience & Medical
Products: Biological insecticide
Founder and President Lee Anne Merrill specializes in biological grasshopper control that's both effective and environmentally friendly.
In 1985, Merrill took a lab job in the M&R's current facility and worked for the company that produced Nolo Bait. "I started working for them cleaning, working alone most of the time, raising a few insects," she says. "It was a tiny company."
Nolo Bait is an EPA-registered, single-cell organism that's closely related to fungi and is host-specific to Orthoptera, the order of insects that includes grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets. The active ingredient is a naturally occurring organism that grows inside a grasshopper, reproducing and eating its fat body until it dies. The organism spreads to other grasshoppers through numerous means -- it can potentially persist for years.
"It falls technically within the category of a bio-pesticide, but it's produced with 100 percent natural ingredients," says Merrill. "We have to raise the organism inside living grasshoppers because it won't reproduce inside a petri dish like other things do."
And it's notably green, she adds. "It's not toxic to the environment in any way. It's naturally occurring, but not in a large enough concentration to offer pest control out in nature. It's not going to hurt anything that eats an infected grasshopper and it is harmless to other insects and birds, fish, and wildlife."
After a venture capital firm acquired the original company that had the EPA registration for Nolo Bait, it grew quickly and Merrill rose in the ranks. "I worked my way up from laborer to production manager, to lab manager to interim facility manager here," she says. However, it was a four-year roller coaster, which ended when the company shuttered its doors.
An opportunity soon presented itself. "Probably a year later, I got a call from my former boss, the president of that company, telling me that they were selling everything and that they had filed for bankruptcy, that the registration and technology was being auctioned and so was the building we had worked in," Merrill explains. "One of our family members is a molecular and cellular biologist, a world-renowned scientist. He said, 'I love the concept of biological pest control and reducing the chemical footprint.' He said if we wanted to pursue it, he would back us."
And that's exactly what happened. "We ended up acquiring the EPA registration and technology to produce Nolo Bait for grasshopper control," Merrill says. "It was an opportunity to put what I had learned to work."
She incorporated the company and acquired the building where she had previously, and still produces, Nolo Bait. M&R diversified into raising other organisms, including lacewings, nematodes, and host insects for beneficial biological pest controls. "Over the years, we ended up streamlining down as the demand for Nolo Bait became more intense," she continues. "We decided we needed our facility to raise more of the active ingredient."
Plenty of other companies raise and produce biological pest controls in North America as well as in Europe. While M&R is now focused exclusively on Nolo Bait production, Merrill still consults -- after all, she's got more than 35 years of practical experience in entomology and nematology and conducted a hands-on course at Colorado State University in biological control which qualified for continuing education credits for pesticide applicators.
Challenges: Boosting M&R's retail network. "We want to expand our distributorship and dealership on the retail level," Merrill says. "We would like to expand our distributorship in all of our states here in the U.S. as well as in Canada."
Opportunities: "We're growing by leaps and bounds, we had our busiest year ever, this season," says Merrill. "Demand in Canada -- now that we have a registration there -- is starting to grow." She adds that they hope to grow the business in the short term and they don't expect to make any major changes in the next four to five years.
Needs: "The growth is becoming substantial enough to the point that we may need to bring in different equipment that can handle larger volumes," Merrill says.