Agritech start-up BioLumic raises significant funds to grow plants better with UV light

A Palmerston North start-up has attracted significant overseas investment for its near-magical plant growing technology.

Main image: BioLumic chief executive Warren Bebb (left) and founder Jason Wargent. Credit: Sprout Agritech.

"The power of light" has a poetic ring to it: you might think it's the title of a new self-help book or Madonna album. But for Palmerston North start-up BioLumic, the words make up the core premise of their scientifically proven method of increasing crop yield. They've created the first ultraviolet (UV) "crop yield enhancement system", and last week announced the close of $5 million in Series A financing. 

Founded by Dr. Jason Wargent, a world-renowned photobiologist specializing in UV/plant interactions, and spun out of leading AgriTech research from Massey University in New Zealand, BioLumic’s technology is rooted in more than a decade of research into UV photomorphogenesis, a process whereby a
precise UV treatment induces plant root and leaf development and activates its secondary metabolism. BioLumic’s growing team of scientists and engineers are now translating Wargent’s scientific discoveries into commercial products that will reshape crop-growing operations around the world.

Biolumic uses UV light

Addressing the global need for increased agricultural crop yields, BioLumic treats seedlings and seeds - they're currently focused on lettuce, broccoli, strawberry and tomato seedlings - with its proprietary ultraviolet light systems. Its patented technology precisely applies UV light treatments that deliver long-term crop benefits—including improved crop consistency, increased yield and disease resistance. Already in commercial use for high-value produce crops around the globe, BioLumic has worked with large-scale produce growers and processors in California and Mexico with yield gains of up to 22 percent, and commercial trials are taking place in Spain and the United Kingdom. 

“Light is an extremely powerful biological tool that can safely manipulate plants without the concerns often associated with genetic modification, chemical usage, and other unnatural treatments,” said BioLumic CEO Warren Bebb. “BioLumic is the only company using light as an Ag treatment at the beginning of a plant’s life. Exposure to a short-duration treatment of UV-enriched light at a critical stage in a plant’s development turns on characteristics to help the seed or seedling more effectively defend itself against disease or pest attacks and more efficiently use water and nutrients from the soil for its entire lifespan.” 

The funding round was led by top agritech investors Finistere Ventures and Radicle Growth acceleration fund, with Rabobank’s recently launched Food & Agri Innovation Fund and existing investors from New Zealand also joining.

“We actively invest in data-driven technology startups who are changing the paradigm for sustainable AgTech from around the globe, and BioLumic was an ideal fit for us,” said Arama Kukutai, co-founder and partner, Finistere Ventures. “Using UV treatments to complement traditional chemicals or biologicals, BioLumic will give farmers a new way to enhance crop yield and vigor by activating stronger plant characteristics with the power of light.”

“Ag players are seeking to find more sustainable ways to meet the growing global food production demands, and BioLumic is the first to take a UV approach to precision seed/seedling treatments,“ added Richard O’Gorman, director, Rabo Food & Agri Innovation Fund.“We believe BioLumic has the potential to significantly enhance the value of produce for growers by enabling higher yield and greater crop uniformity – in particular in geographies where Rabo has a strong history of serving farmers.” 

Kukutai and Haney will join current AgBio veteran Dr. John Bedbrook on the BioLumic Board. Kukutai and Haney will focus on helping the company make connections with key industry players to expand its global reach and further its research and development efforts.

View this video to see how the BioLumic UV crop yield enhancement system works. 

Article adapted from BioLumic press release.

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