Metrovate is Developing Precision Biostimulants for More Effective and Sustainable Farming Outcomes

Metrovate has announced a $1 million capital raise by Sprout Agritech LP to fund the development of New Zealand’s first precision biostimulant for agriculture. Merging agricultural science with cutting edge computational methods that utilise 3D modelling and machine learning, Metrovate's goal is to develop products with precise modes of action that improve plant growth and immunity while being safe to apply and biodegradable in service of more planet-friendly farming practices.

Image Credit: Metrovate

“Globally, there is mounting pressure on farmers to clean up their environmental impact. In addition, climate change is driving outsized losses that could lead to national food security challenges that in turn are driving exorbitant pricing. Metrovate’s goal is to improve the tooling we use to help growers achieve crop resilience, faster recovery and better yields,” explains Metrovate’s Founder and Chief Scientific Officer Nikolai Macnee. 

Nikolai grew up on Great Barrier Island where producing food in an ethical manner was central to their way of life, as was regenerative farming, but says these methods fail to scale. “Metrovate’s core value is producing food without harming our environment. To do this, our tooling needs to improve in a way that doesn’t destroy waterways and rivers or augment our reliance on fossil fuels,” he says. 

Most growth promoting agricultural products - including plant growth regulators and biostimulants - cause an increase in growth to whatever they’re applied to at a cellular level. This could include the weeds and even surrounding flora and fauna that come into contact with it, with potentially harmful ‘off-target’ consequences. Using molecular biology, Metrovate has isolated the natural signalling molecules needed for a precision targeted biostimulant that only affects the intended parts of the target crop. 

Most growth promoting agricultural products including plant growth regulators and biostimulants cause an increase in growth to whatever they’re applied to at a cellular level. This could include the weeds and even surrounding flora and fauna that come into contact with it, with potentially harmful ‘off-target’ consequences. The same can be said for pesticides and herbicides that are intended for plant pests but often have damaging effects on the broader environment. Using molecular biology, Metrovate has isolated the natural signalling molecules needed for a precision targeted biostimulant that only affects the intended parts of the target crop. 

“Traditional biostimulants are either safe to apply, but not entirely functional; or highly functional but based on synthetic chemicals that aren’t safe. Metrovate’ formula will be both safe to apply and functional, reimagining an important industry that is ripe for disruption in the form of more sustainable solutions,” comments Chief Investment Officer for Sprout Agritech, Warren Bebb.

This is the eighth investment Sprout has made with its investment partners US-based Finistere Ventures, Kiwi dairy giant Fonterra and venture builder OurCrowd, as well as with the support of Te Pokapū Auaha Callaghan Innovation’s Deep Tech Incubator programme. The programme supports the commercialisation of early-stage deep tech ventures in New Zealand.

Marrying Molecular Biology and Cutting-Edge Technology 

“By marrying molecular biology with cutting-edge technology models that allow us to predict how the molecules we’re designing will interact with the native machinery of plants, we’ve been able to achieve a level of accuracy we believe is unique in industry. Driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence, our platform technology employs unique computational techniques that allow us to design and refine biostimulants which can both broadly improve growth and, where applicable, achieve some of the highest specificity in the world,” explains Nikolai. 

Biostimulants Explained

Targeting a broad range of growing styles - from traditional broad acre crops to high tech projects such as indoor growing and vertical farms - Metrovate’s biostimulant changes the way plants grow. The proprietary formulas can be applied via fertigation systems or through foliar spray with the aim of enhancing nutrition efficiency, stress tolerance and/or crop quality traits such as size. 

“Precision biostimulants will reduce the need for plant growth regulators, herbicides and pesticides. Because they speed up growth, farmers will also require less fertiliser per plant and be able to improve yield naturally without genetic modification. Unlike genetic modification that takes a long period of time to generate elite, genetically stable plant lines, precision biostimulants interact with the native machinery of plant cells resulting in an immediate and strong growth response. Precision biostimulants like traditional biologicals can be applied to plants throughout the growth cycle including during flowering and late development unlike small molecules and hormones that are limited to early growth stages,” explains Nikolai.

Journey to Commercialisation 

Metrovate is currently actively engaging with the New Zealand market including a wide range of growers and with leading suppliers of agricultural products. The technology has been validated by industry-leading specialists and Metrovate is actively collaborating with academic and industry groups in Europe. 

The Metrovate team has expanded to include experts in computational science and commercialisation and the startup has a group of scientific and strategic advisors including Patrice Sellès (Switzerland), Ryan Whitford (Australia) and Eric Burgueño (NZ) to ensure the science is high quality and the vision is global.

Metrovate has a purpose built lab facility that is housed in the Newmarket Innovation Precinct. Initial funding, augmented by an Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT) grant, will be used to validate efficacy and refine an initial targeted product to satisfy the needs of growers. Further field trials and R&D will follow the initial screening underway before the startup can scale a commercial solution. 

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