Why we call Enko a crop health company
By Jacqueline Heard, CEO and founder

October 25, 2021

Image credit: Tim Llewellyn

At Enko, our mission is to discover and design crop health solutions with intention. 

From time to time, people ask why we call ourselves a crop health company instead of a crop protection company. I’d like to share our thinking behind that description and how it powers our vision to strengthen and sustain the future of farming. 

The food system faces growing hurdles

We are firmly entering a new era of the humanitarian and environmental crisis centered around food and agriculture. Agricultural output needs to increase in the coming years, but it’s getting more difficult for farmers to produce enough food. They are already using most of the world’s arable land, and they urgently need new tools to grow healthy crops and improve yields. Meanwhile, climate change is exacerbating plant diseases and spreading increasingly resistant pests like fungi and insects to new regions. 

Preventing a global food crisis will require multiple solutions to protect crops from pests and diseases. Chemistry-based crop protection has powerful potential to improve the resiliency of global food supplies, especially in partnership with biologicals and other tools. For consumers to embrace it, it must be safe, effective, sustainable, and transparent. 

This is where our commitment to crop health comes into play.

Crop health products that are safe for people and the environment

The traditional industry approach to discovering new agrochemicals starts with a potentially promising new molecule, determines whether it will work on different pests, then moves into safety testing. In contrast, our approach is inspired by advancements in human healthcare—specifically drug discovery.

Enko is the first company to apply a target-based approach to crops through DNA-encoded libraries, machine learning and structure-based design. This proven technology has advanced pharmacological drug discovery over the last few decades. With this approach, we build in safety guardrails from the discovery stage of our process, only moving forward with molecules that target a specific pest enzyme without impacting similar enzymes in other organisms. 

Image credit: Tim Llewellyn

Just as the pharma industry seeks to treat disease without harming the patient’s overall health, we are discovering and developing products that prioritize both crop health and the health of their ecosystem–including farmers, pollinators and consumers. Crop health also acknowledges that crop challenges are inherently entwined. For example, drought weakens crops’ defenses against pests, and if crops are also competing with weeds for soil nutrients and water, those defenses get even weaker. Crop yields can plummet as a result. 

We believe this whole-system approach is critical to restore consumer trust in agrochemicals, and to make real progress in responding to the massive and intertwined challenges our food system faces.