Early-stage Canadian biotech start-up Terramera has successfully raised a total of $45 million from investors including Ingka Green, an environmentally-focused investment arm of the IKEA group. The round was led by Ospraie Ag Science, the early stage investment vehicle of commodities hedge fund Ospraie Management and S2G, the agritech venture capital firm.
Terra has developed biotechnology which serves as a delivery tool for crop protection ingredients, helping to vastly reduce the quantities of pesticides farmers need to use. Terramera’s uses natural compounds to increase the porousness of plant cells as well as delivering the active ingredient to the right part of the cells. A pesticide better permeating the cells of treated plants as well as being targeted precisely means much smaller quantities can be used. The efficiency of biological pesticides and fungicides can also be significantly improved by Terramera’s technology. They typically have a larger molecular structure so penetrate cells less well, an issue which Terramera’s biotech goes some way to solving by increasing porousness.
The toxicity of synthetic pesticides and fungicides as used in food is not only being linked to health effects in humans. The run-off from fields sprayed by the same is blamed from depleting soil nutrient levels as well as polluting rivers and oceans, creating ‘dead zones’. Scientists and investors have been working on organic, microbial-based alternatives but farmer doubts around their efficacy have so far limited market penetration. In theory, Terra’s delivery system could make these new, more environmentally-friendly alternatives effective enough to replace synthetics.
New technologies like Terramera’s are considered key to achieving a balance between the need to increase agricultural output to feed a growing human population, while make it more efficient and less environmentally damaging. The start-ups founder and CEO Karn Manhas explains:
“We use 5bn pounds of pesticides [globally]. The current system of agriculture is at risk.”
The potential seen Terramera’s solution is apparent both from the scale of its early fundraising efforts and the profile of the company’s board. Members include former global head of McKinsey Dominic Barton, Adrian Percy, a former chief of R&D at Bayer’s crop science division with the chair Jeff Booth, a successful tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Builddirect.com.