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The human population grew more than 7x in the last 200 years or so, from 1 billion in 1800, to over 7.5 billion in 2018. With that increased number of people, that means more mouths to feed, which means a greater strain on resources. The ability to be able to grow food is more pertinent than ever before. Yet, there are major problems with our current farming methods that are actually leading to soil erosion.
"Soil is the most valuable asset to support life on earth, but because of modern agriculture practices, including using chemicals in the soil, we have lost one third of arable soil in the last 40 years. And the problem is accelerating," Adrián Ferrero, co-founder and CEO of Biome Makers, a company using AI to analyze soil, told me.
"The reality is, we don’t really know how to maintain healthy soil. There are some tools out there but they don’t give farmers the full picture. And this is leading to bad practices. As a result, every year farmers are spending more that $40 billion in crop inputs to keep the soil productive, but still up to 30 percent of crop value is lost because of different biological problems. Furthermore we do not have full understanding of the effect of the different inputs in the soil."
Biome Maker is looking to solve this problem by using DNA Sequencing technologies, and what it calls "Intelligent Computing systems," to better understand soil microbiomes. The technology is able to gather detailed information on what's happening in the soil, and then farmers can use those insights to improve their agricultural production and the quality of their products.
"At Biome Makers we realized that there are not good metrics on soil bioactivity so we have developed a fully automatized system providing a functional interpretation of the best soil health biomarker, the soil microbiome," said Ferrero.
"Our approach is to check the life of the soil is complementary to traditional agricultural testing. There are other companies using DNA Sequencing to profile microbes, but our proprietary system processing the DNA data and providing functional interpretation of soil microbes based in ecological computing make us unique. Our team has worked very hard to crack the bacteria and fungal relationships into agronomic insights."
Biome Maker's technology has allowed growers to increase their yield by 1 to 3 percent in normal productive fields, meaning those without disease or ecological problems, and 15 percent in problematic fields.
"We have developed and end-to-end technology where we control the whole process from sampling protocol to result delivery. We are currently supporting over 300 growers from many countries in different crops."
Last week, the company announced that it raised a $4 million financing round led by Seaya Ventures and JME Ventures, with participation by LocalGlobe. This brings its total funding to $6.5 million.
The new funding will be used to keep the company’s footprint across different geographies, which include the United States, Europe and Latin America, and crop types. It will also go toward developing new offerings, including an assessment system for agricultural products.
"Last year we released BeCrop, an all-in-one genetic soil tests for any crop. Now, we are increasing the commercial power to increase the traction and educate farmers in the new possibilities opened by our technology," Ferrero explained.
"Related to the future, we should start testing the impact of the new biologicals landing in the market to better understand their effectiveness based in location and crop. We are the only company rating the impact on bio-active ag inputs in soil with our patented technology."
Biome Maker's ultimate goal is to "ensure that we maintain and regenerate the soil to keep producing delicious and nutritive food."
"We need active soil, living soil performing all its functions, from carbon sequestration to nitrogen mobilization. Everything starts in the soil, from the grass the cows eat to the potatoes we cook. Success looks like we are able to help growers to choose the best and most suitable solution for each soil, increasing its resilience while ensuring a sustainable production."
(Image source: biomemakers.com)
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