What if plants could talk to farmers and tell them when they’re in trouble? This will not only help the plants, but also reduce the amount of agricultural waste that threatens the health of the planet.

Much of agriculture may look green, but industry is one of the world’s biggest carbon offenders. It accounts for at least 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to 2021 data from the Environmental Protection Agency. Agricultural waste adds to the problem.

Even with the use of pesticides, up to 40% of most food crops worldwide are lost to disease and pests, according to a 2023 study. report from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Now companies like SatAgro, Climate FieldView and a California-based startup called InnerPlant are working to reduce agricultural waste.

Using genetic engineering, InnerPlant helps crops communicate with their farmers. The technology uses fluorescent lights that emit a signal in the leaves when the plant is in trouble. This signal is detected by devices that can be attached to satellites, drones or tractors.

“As the plant responds to stress in your environment, such as fungal insects or nitrogen deficiency, it will start signaling and then we can help farmers understand which areas of the field need something and which areas are good and don’t additional chemicals,” said Shelly Aronov, CEO of InnerPlant.

From this signal, farmers know what to treat, that is, they do not spend money on preparations that are exceeded by up to 30%, said Aronov.

“We want to eliminate all the unnecessary applications of chemicals in our food system, in our soils, as well as the additional costs that come to farmers, from which they do not get any benefit,” Aronov added.

This technology is highly scalable and can be licensed to large seed companies. InnerPlant would earn royalty income, making it attractive to investors.

“If you can put this technology into every single corn seed or soybean seed in North America and South America, that’s hundreds of millions of acres, and you can think of several dollars per acre in terms of revenue.” That suddenly ends up being a lot of revenue for that business,” said Tom Biegala, founding partner of Bison Ventures, InnerPlant’s investor.

In addition to Bison Ventures, InnerPlant is backed by John Deere, MS&AD Ventures, UpWest VC and Bee Partners. It has a total funding of $22.3 million.

InnerPlant now works closely with small farmers and some of the largest agricultural producers in the country. Some have paid to get early access to the technology, which will start with soybeans and then expand to other crops.

— CNBC producer Lisa Rizzolo contributed to this piece.

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