BioLumic, a New Zealand-based agtech startup developing UV light recipes to apply to seeds and seedlings to promote crop yield increases, has hired a new CEO.
After an official recruitment process, the company – which boasts ex-Bayer Crop Science head of research and development Adrian Percy on its board – picked Steve Sibulkin, the founder of US agricultural field modeling startup Adapt-N.
Sibulkin had been working at Norwegian fertilizer giant Yara International, which acquired Adapt-N in 2017. He officially starts with BioLumic today.
Since being spun out of Massey University in 2012 under founder and current chief science officer Jason Wargent, BioLumic has been developing light recipes to treat seeds and seedlings of multiple crop types, including fruits and vegetables as well as cannabis. It counts Canopy Rivers, a VC firm affiliated with Canadian cannabis producer Canopy Growth, as an investor. It has also opened a second research and development center in California.
Its photogenics platform combines artificial intelligence with precision light treatments to activate the natural plant signaling response to UV light, enhancing crop yield and quality, drought tolerance, and resistance to disease and pests.
In hydroponically-grown strawberries, BioLumic has managed to increase yields by 40% per plant after using its lighting recipes with breeding and treatment of the crop’s seeds, Percy told AFN.
“The essence of the tech is that it uses different UV light recipes at different intensities for different periods of time. And that can solicit important early stage yield benefits on different crops by turning on genes within the plant to help crop establishment or disease prevention,” he said.
That means the startup is “able to unlock the natural genetic potential of seeds without additional chemicals or any genetic modification,” Sibulkin added. “This is desired by the seed industry.”
BioLumic started its commercial journey with a lettuce producer in Europe. It now hopes to expand to other clients, with a particular focus on the major seed companies with which it could partner on certain crops.
Commercialization could take multiple routes, though the startup does not see itself becoming a seed company. That’s unless it’s acquired by one, of course – which is a potential route to exit for its investors, according to Sibulkin and Percy.
And while there’s a hardware component to UV light treatments in the lighting itself, the company doesn’t want to be seen in that light.
“We’re a light recipe provider, doing all the fundamental research to really understand what types of UV light recipes have the biggest impact on what types of crops,” Percy said. “We want to be known for that instead of as a hardware manufacturer.”
UV lighting tech may sound like quite a departure from the digital precision fertilizer tech Sibulkin was working with at Adapt-N and Yara. But there are similarities.
“There is a digital component to this, from a know-how perspective,” he said. “Adapt-N was using modeling to help famers to prime their yield profitability and performance. BioLumic has specialized tech and know-how in how to improve and create treatments to its own tech, crop to crop, seedlings to seed.”
In a statement, Wargent said that BioLumic is “ready to focus on commercialization and building a global footprint” for its proprietary technology which “cultivates stronger, healthier plants to meet rising food demands.”
He added that, as “a respected leader in sustainable agriculture, Steve’s wealth of experience leading cross-disciplinary teams around new categories of product innovation will help drive the adoption of our novel light treatments in the global ag marketplace.”
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