US-based soil testing startup Biome Makers has raised $15 million in a Series B round led by Prosus Ventures – a VC affiliate of South African internet giant Naspers. Other investors joining the round included Spanish firms JME Ventures and Seaya Ventures, Netherlands-based Pymwymic, and US-based Viking Global Investors.
In a statement, Biome Makers said it will use the Series B capital to accelerate the global reach of its biological soil analysis platform. With its tech already available in parts of North America and Europe, the startup now has its sights set on Asia Pacific, Africa, and South America.
Launched in 2015 by Spanish co-founders Alberto Acedo and Adrián Ferrero, Biome Makers has developed a range of soil testing products and AI-driven analysis tools to help farmers better understand their land’s soil microbiome.
This in turn allows growers to adopt methods and practices that can encourage soil health, cut their expenditure on inputs, and gain production efficiencies – while also potentially sequestering carbon that they can sell on credits markets to generate additional income.
Today Biome Makers has labs in its Sacramento, California headquarters as well as in Spain, and claims that more than 1,000 farmers, 140 research institutions, and 80 agricultural input manufacturers across 35 countries are using its two flagship analytical products.
BeCrop is an “all-in-one genetic soil assessment” that allows farmers and agronomists to take soil samples and mail them to Biome Makers’ lab for analysis. In return, they get a report on their soil’s microbiome and its biodiversity, nutrition pathways, and vulnerabilities, with recommendations on how to get the best out of it, take care of it, improve yields, and so on.
Gheom assesses the effects of agricultural inputs on farm soils, giving farmers the opportunity to compare different inputs and make informed decisions about which are better for their land based on analysis of the soil microbiome.
Quoted in a Biome Makers statement, US farmer Roric Paulman, owner of Southwest Nebraska’s Paulman Farms, said that BeCrop has “provided important data about [his] soil’s fertility and capacity for carbon sequestration,” helping him to save on fertilizer costs and implement “more efficient” practices.
All about the biome
Now more than ever there is a need to understand more about our soil and how its health can impact food production. Conventional commodity crop farming, which relies on heavy tillage and liberal use of chemicals, tends to treat soil as an industrial material rather than as an organic, living thing.
This is largely unsustainable for a planet that needs to produce enough food to feed 10 billion people by 2050. Not only do current farming practices make a substantial contribution to global carbon emissions; they also lead to a loss of soil fertility, which in turn spurs more use of chemicals to yield adequate amounts of food.
Understanding more about our soil’s microbiome — that is, the millions of microorganisms living just below the surface of any field — would help farmers and agronomists better understand what their crops need in order to produce robust, high-quality yields sustainably. The trouble is, getting one’s hands on such precise data requires the kind of advanced technology most haven’t had access to historically.
That’s where Biome Makers hopes to step in. Its platform, which the startup describes as “23andMe for soil,” combines DNA sequencing with artificial intelligence to analyze how soil microbiome might impact growth for a given crop. The company wants to build a global dataset for soil that’s available to small farms and major corporations alike, and has already partnered with Bayer Crop Science to develop a yield improvement tool for farmers and agronomists.
“Soil is the most valuable asset to support life on Earth, but we don’t really know how to keep it healthy – and global food production suffers from it,” CEO Ferrero told AFN at the time of the company’s Series A fundraise in August 2019.
“We have developed a pioneer technology platform based on DNA sequencing, network-based data analytics, and AI that allows us to see in the soil what others don’t see.”
Biome Makers originally started out as a tool for the wine industry, testing microbial species in the soil of vineyards and giving recommendations for improving quality and yield of grapes. It has since expanded to work in different settings, and now counts fruit producer Dole, agronomy practice Waypoint Analytical, and truffle research farm ID Forest, as well as winery Silver Oak Cellars, among its customers.
“Biome Makers has created a truly innovative offering, which comes from the founders’ deep expertise and passion to work in agriculture and soil health,” Banafsheh Fathieh, head of Americas investments at Prosus Ventures, said in a statement.
“Prosus Ventures invests in industries around the world where innovation can significantly address big societal needs and we believe in Biome Makers’ potential to fundamentally change how farmers interact with their soil, yielding a major societal impact with regards to fresh food supply.”