Seed, soil, science, sex…Semios

January 6, 2019 |

It’s at the start of a slew of biofuels, biomaterials, and biobased products. You can say it’s the spark of light that starts it all. The big bang. The origination point. The beginning of life. With the hype of new technologies, the hottest innovations, fast-changing times, we forget sometimes that it often starts with a seed and soil…and sex.

That’s why Semios is becoming more and more important to those who work with anything that grows in a field. That’s why their recent $9.9 million in funding is huge. Their work with crop management systems, technology and data, and pheromone biopesticide products that disrupt the mating of damaging insects is changing the way we look at things.

What is Semios?

First some background since Semios may not yet be a household name, though it could be in some farming-focused areas who look to Semios as an integral part of their livelihood. They offer a precision farming platform that provides real-time crop data and pest management tools for tree fruit and nut growers. Leveraging a proprietary, in-orchard IoT wireless network, machine learning, and big data analytics, Semios helps growers manage insect pests, disease, frost and irrigation. The Semios analytics engine draws on multiple sources of data and information including a robust, wireless network of in-canopy IoT sensors on every customer farm measuring climate, soil moisture and insect and disease pest activity.

The $9.9M dough

Semios recently received $9.9 million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (STDC) in support of its big data initiative to improve crop yield while reducing the use of chemicals and water during production.

Like a beautiful plant growing in the fields, the $9.9 million will help Semios move further along the line of life. More specifically, it will help Semios develop machine learning models to predict how environmental factors and agronomic decisions impact plant stress in tree fruit and tree nut crops. Semios is building on their existing crop management network and industry-leading dataset to deliver more global economic and environmental benefits.

“Growing populations will demand maximum food production, per acre, from an industry that faces constant and increasing environmental, regulatory, and economic challenges,” says Semios Founder, and CEO, Dr. Michael Gilbert.

“Managing and optimizing stress in trees is challenging and not well understood. Given the complexity of orchard ecosystems, big data and machine learning are important tools in understanding and predicting the factors that impact stress. Granular data is required to overcome the variability across orchards, geographies, and seasons. We’ll leverage data from our robust, wireless IoT network of over 500,000 in-canopy sensors to develop a better understanding of stress and its impact on production, yield, and input timing”.

“Semios is a shining example of cleantech innovation that can come from the convergence of artificial intelligence and agriculture. We’re proud to support its advancements in leveraging machine learning to improve crop production and reduce the carbon footprint of common agricultural practices,” said Leah Lawrence, President and CEO, SDTC. SDTC continues to support Canadian entrepreneurs in accelerating the development and deployment of globally competitive clean technology solutions with its second substantial investment in Semios.

It’s not all about sex…or is it?

So how does Semios’ technology and science work to make magic happen in the fields? Is it all about sex (after all, if you Google “pheromone” many of the top results are for perfumes to attract a mate or how pheromones affect sex life)? Not to get you too excited, but it is somewhat about sex…about disrupting the mating of insects thanks to one of Semios’ products.

As reported in The Digest in May 2017, the EPA approved Semios’ CRS Plus, an aerosol pheromone biopesticide product that disrupts the mating of Aonidiella aurantii, also known as California Red Scale (CRS). Semios also received California Department of Pest Regulation approval.

The Semios CRS Plus solution is delivered via their internet-of-things (IoT) platform as variable rate mating disruption. In other words, they use nature’s own communication system (i.e. pheromones) to disrupt the behavior of these insects, prevent mating and reduce damage. Approximately 1 tablespoon per acre of these safe, non-toxic and organic pheromone ingredients needs to be delivered over an entire season, based on the insect growth cycles. To achieve this, the CRS Plus product is delivered on-demand, when and where needed, via remotely controlled dispensers on every acre.

Pheromones are a naturally occurring part of the communication systems used by insects. Semios uses pheromones to disrupt the mating cycle of insects in crops such as apples, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and now citrus, resulting in diminished pest populations and reduced crop damage. Pheromones do not kill or damage the target insects and, as pheromones are species‐specific and only target the specific pest, pollinators and other beneficial insect species are not affected. Effective population control can ultimately contribute to reduced pesticide applications.

What’s so bad about CRS? Well, to begin with, it attacks all aerial parts of citrus trees including twigs, leaves, branches, and, most importantly, the fruit. Heavy infestations can cause quality downgrades to fruit when received at packing houses, diminishing grower revenue. In high numbers, CRS can cause yellowing and drop of leaves, dieback of twigs and limbs, and even death of the tree.

Michael Gilbert, Founder and CEO of Semios said, “We’re very pleased to be first to market with the only aerosol solution for CRS control.”

Bottom Line

Disrupting the mating of insects via a pheromone biopesticide product is pretty innovative. Using nature and nature’s communication systems to help improve crop yields and ward off the reproduction of damaging pests, could change things big time for agriculture. And Semios’ recent $9.9 million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada could help give the boost that they need to move to the next level.

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