FFVA associate member KeyPlex experienced an auspicious beginning. This high-tech plant nutritional company was founded in 1980 by the collective talents of Dr. Irwin Morse, a Miami surgeon specializing in cancer research, and George Butler, a prominent Homestead nurseryman. Morse was exploring how nutrition and good health affected cancer cells. Butler was experimenting with how to best feed his plants.
Morse and Butler partnered with scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where they established a link between plant nutrient technology, plant health and System Acquired Resistance. Their revolutionary products, patented blends of micronutrient supplements, helped to unlock the complexities of plant health. “KeyPlex’s products, which are calcium, magnesium, boron or zinc-based, work in harmony with each other and the plant to improve yield and quality and reduce spoilage,” explained current KeyPlex President and CEO Gerald O’Connor.
In the early 1990s, KeyPlex discovered that its micronutrient supplements stimulated the plant’s immune system. “Our product formulations help elevate the plant’s defensive proteins so the plant is able to protect itself against disease before it’s attacked,” said O’Connor. This phenomenon is called Systemic Acquired Resistance or SAR. “By raising the plant’s immune system, growers are often able to reduce their use of pesticides and fungicides,” said O’Connor. “KeyPlex products are not a replacement for these chemicals, but by adding them to a grower’s fertigation plan, the grower uses less of them.”
Over the years, KeyPlex has been committed to enhancing the link between the necessary plant nutrient requirements and the most efficient ways to supply them. The company conducts extensive lab and field trials at its global research facility housed at the University of Georgia. “Our focus on research aims to address the needs of the future,” said O’Connor. “Our product development is not looking at next year’s offerings, but 15 years down the line,” he said. “How can we be more efficient? How can we better reduce disease in plants? These are some of the questions we’re always asking.”
KeyPlex uses the highest quality raw materials available in their plant nutritionals. All products are formulated at its state-of the-art manufacturing plant in Bowling Green, Fla. The decision to build the facility in 2011 was a result of the company’s growth and O’Connor’s desire to manufacture products made in America. “My opinion is both domestic and foreign growers believe in the superiority of American-made products, because they’ve been fooled by imitation products from countries like India, Pakistan and China,” he said.
Before 2005, KeyPlex’s revenue base was 80 percent citrus-based. Today, citrus represents about 40 percent of revenues. “KeyPlex has gone from offering 12 products to 19, in 17 countries and expanding, and on 55 types of crops,” O’Connor said. Crops served today include bananas, chili peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, snow peas and snap peas, carrots, onions and potatoes as well as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
“Feedback from our growers is an integral part of KeyPlex’s product development, and a key factor to our success,” he added. With more than 30 years of grower experience, the company has developed knowledge and understanding of the complex practice of plant management. “We are able to be more than just a supplier to our growers,” O’Connor said. “KeyPlex has consultative partnerships with many of our clients with a specialty in improving supply chain management.
“The next step in KeyPlex product evolution is Growth Reproduction Integration Defense (GRID) technology,” O’Connor said. KeyPlex’s future includes more global outreach and a continued focus on research and development. “It’s our objective to continue to innovate, using cutting-edge technology, so we are producing the highest-quality micronutrient product in the world,” he said.
Learn more at keyplex.com or contact Gerald O’Connor and his team at 407-682-6500.