Stevia First Corp. (otcqb: STVF) ("Stevia First" or the "Company"), an early-stage agribusiness based in California's Central Valley growing region and focused on the industrial scale production of stevia, the all-natural zero-calorie sweetener that is rapidly transforming the food and beverage industry, is pleased to announce its determination to act in concert with USDA-funded researchers by providing plant material, logistical support and sites for ongoing stevia field trials.
Stevia First is an advocate of the USDA's Specialty Crops Project and believes project support will be important to successful domestic cultivation. In 2010, approximately 50,000 acres of stevia were grown globally although less than 1 percent occurred in the United States.
Stevia is considered by the USDA a minor crop because it is grown on less than 300,000 acres. Minor crops include most vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, spices, and horticultural crops. However, minor crops account for over $40 billion in annual sales, approximately 40 percent, there is often a lack of incentive for the agrochemical industry to invest in registering crop protection tools for minor crops. Minor crops have fewer pest control tools despite their high value and importance. The specialty crops project offers an opportunity to overcome this gap and Stevia First aims to align itself closely with the program as an enthusiastic industry proponent. The Company's generation of conventional and organic stevia cultivation practices is aimed at providing leadership for growers that plan to widely introduce stevia in the United States.
Contingent upon a successful application and trial results, the USDA's Specialty Crops Project has the capability to lend support to industry or academic sponsors while interfacing directly with agrochemical companies enabling the approval of safe and effective conventional and organic agrochemicals for stevia growers across the U.S.
Company CEO Robert Brooke states, "We are seeking to develop a reliable and scalable North American supply chain of stevia products. Development of integrated pest management tools is critical in our effort to produce conventional and organic California grown stevia leaf. In addition, such work will support the more widespread availability of low-cost plant material feedstock for use with fermentation-based production of steviol glycosides."