Ag-tech start-up WeedOUT fighting weed resistance

Cotton Palmer amaranth
A cotton field Infested with Palmer amaranth. Photo: WeedOUT

Ag-tech start-up WeedOUT, Ltd. has secured $8.1 million in A-round funding to tackle herbicide-resistant weeds.

Leading the round is Fulcrum Global Capital, a US agri-focused VC with ties to farmers across the US. The infusion of new capital will advance the company’s mission to combat weed resistance through its breakthrough green solution.

Other participants in the equity round include Bunge Ventures, the investment arm of the leading agriculture and food company Bunge, and the Singapore-headquartered agrifood tech fund Clay Capital. The new funding is in addition to several grants received by the company from the Israeli Innovation Authority.

WeedOUT’s solution could solve one of the greatest threats to agriculture and food security: herbicide-resistant weeds. The company created a novel and environmentally-conscious approach to significantly curbing proliferation of weeds that no longer respond to commonly used chemical herbicides.

WeedOUT’s first target

“Weeds are highly competitive, aggressive plants,” said Efrat Lidor Nili, co-founder and co-CEO of WeedOUT.

“They compete with crops for all essential resources, including soil, water, nutrients—and even sunlight. Weeds substantially reduce crop yield.”

The company’s first target is the Palmer amaranth weed (Amaranthus palmeri), a major nuisance in the US, Brazil, and Argentina. The weed can grow up to several metres high and invade fields of corn, cotton, soybeans, and sugar beets. It can reduce corn crop yield by 90% and soybean yield by 80%.

“Our green solution specifically targets this type of resistant weed,” Nili said.

The prolonged use of chemical herbicides, such as glyphosate, has enabled the destructive weeds to develop multiple resistance. Nicknamed “super weeds,” the traditional method for countering them has been chemical herbicides.

“Evolution is always smarter,” Nili said.

“The weeds learn ways to evade the effects of the herbicides. But WeedOUT is applying an entirely new, green approach that targets the reproductive system of resistant weeds and will provide a sustainable, long-term solution.”

Novel approach

WeedOUT’s method takes inspiration from sterility techniques used successfully since the 1940s for controlling populations of unwanted insects, such as mosquitoes and flies. It centres on a proprietary weed pollen derived from the male plants. This sterile pollen fertilizes the female weed ovules, producing nonviable seeds and effectively impeding the growth of a new generation of resistant weeds.

Since the introduction of the sterility technique 80 years ago, the realm of insect control has not encountered any resistance issues, and it is considered one of the safest methods ever developed. WeedOUT is the first to apply this to weed control.

WeedOUT’s founders conducted the initial experiments in their own home balconies with instant success. Armed with compelling proof of concept and crucial seed funds, they proceeded to local field trials before scaling up efforts in more extensive trials across the US, covering cotton, soybean, and sugar beet fields. These trials are being conducted in conjunction with key opinion leaders in weed control.

Funds raised in this investment round are being channeled to further expand field trials in multiple regions in the US, including Georgia and Nebraska, as WeedOUT moves to launch its inaugural product targeting the Palmer amaranth weed. The company recently submitted a request to the Environmental Protection Agency for marketing approval and is developing new formulations targeting different weed species.

A new fruitful era

“WeedOUT effectively targets the innately complex reproductive system of the plant, not just one enzymatic pathway,” said Orly Noivirt-Brik, co-founder and co-CEO of WeedOUT.

“This approach makes it almost impossible for the weeds to develop resistance. As the weeds are treated with pollen, our method is designed to work in harmony with the ecosystem and to avoid threats to the food crop.”

The WeedOUT solution marks a new era for farmers.

“By enabling them to integrate our biological approach with traditional methods, we are redefining weed management strategies,” Noivirt-Brik said.

“Our products will dramatically enhance crop yields while simultaneously minimizing dependency on chemical herbicides. We envision our technology being widely adopted for multiple crops and serving as a key solution in the battle against resistant weeds. WeedOUT will make a vital and meaningful contribution to agricultural practices and food security, worldwide.”

Jim Cornall is editor of Future Food Today and publisher at Ayr Coastal Media. He is an award-winning writer, editor, photographer, broadcaster, designer and author. Contact Jim here.