Australian startup Loam Bio is delivering a seed inoculum to growers that supports the build of stable soil carbon in cropping systems. There has not been a technology like it in the marketplace before, the company claims.
Backed by years of scientific research and on-farm trials, Loam Bio has developed a microbial seed coating that increases a plant’s natural ability to store carbon in soil. The grain seed is coated with the microbial inoculum before sowing, and plants and microbes work together to build and retain that carbon in the soil.
CEO Guy Hudson emphasises there is a growing demand for tools that help accelerate carbon gains in soil. He says Loam Bio is one of the companies that is delivering these tools. “Loam’s microbial technology enables greater volumes of carbon to be stored in soils for longer periods of time,” according to Mr Hudson.
We’re selecting the fungi that produce certain compounds that turn up as organic carbon in the soil
Loam Bio has built a development platform that allows it to very quickly screen large numbers of microbes for specific trades around carbon sequestration and stabilisation. “We isolate microbes from a very wide range of environments. We look specifically for microbial fungi that have the capacity to increase both the volume of carbon being sequestered through the season, but also are able to stabilise that carbon in the soil for the long term. We are basically regenerating the land from the microbial level up.”
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Before Loam Bio, Mr Hudson spent a decade in the climate space. He was constantly frustrated with the lack of speed and scale of the technologies in addressing climate change.
“The first time I felt any hope in our ability to address this challenge was 5 years ago sitting in a ute in dusty and drought-stricken New South Wales, with agronomist – and now Co-founder of Loam – Guy Webb, who started talking about the role of microbiology in addressing climate change.”
“A question, I’m often asked by growers, is: where do these fungi come from?”, Co-founder Guy Webb says. “Haven’t we already got them in the soil? An interesting part of the process, is that we go out to find these organisms. We often go out to really extreme climate regions. Desert climates, arid regions or poor soil regions.”
“We are looking for plants that are doing better than they should be in those environments. More often than not, they will have a relationship with a fungus that is helping them to survive those harsh conditions. And in particular we’re selecting the fungi that produce certain compounds that turn up as organic carbon in the soil.”
The microbes are used in Loam’s product CarbonBuilder, a seed inoculum. The inoculum is used to coat seeds and once sown, microbes and plants work together to securely store carbon in soil by binding carbon within soil micro-aggregates.
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After years of research and product development, Loam says CarbonBuilder seed inoculum products now consistently increase soil carbon in cropping systems. Trials last year delivered promising results. In canola, the technology delivered an average carbon sequestration rate of 5.25% with a yield increase of 5.15%. This product showed an average win-rate for carbon build of 88% across the sites tested.
In barley, the technology delivered an average carbon sequestration rate of 3.20% with a grain yield increase of 2.9% This product showed an average win-rate for carbon build of 71% across the sites tested.
Loam Bio might now be able to show on a large scale that its technology can increase the quantity and quality of carbon
CarbonBuilder products are currently available to growers through Loam’s SecondCrop soil carbon projects. Earlier this year, the Australian startup launched into the Australian market after years of product development and a successful AUS $ 105m Series B funding round. The Australian government-owned Green Bank CEFC has invested AUS $ 9 million into the company.
Loam also developed a program with Agribusiness GrainCorp to assist Australian growers in building and monetising carbon in their soil, using Loam Bio’s soil carbon inoculum technology.
Loam Bio works with farmers to understand their carbon footprint, their ability to build stable carbon in their soils, and the value of carbon as a new commodity. The company says it has endeavoured to reduce the risk of entering a carbon project for farmers by removing set-up costs and building in cooling-off periods.
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Earlier this year, the Australian startup launched into the Australian market after years of product development and a successful AUS $105m Series B funding round. – Photo: CEFC
Carbon project lead Torben Heinzel at Loam Bio explains that growers, who would like to participate, will first have to fill out a SecondCrop feasibility survey. “This essentially enables the team at Loam to assess the grower’s potential for a carbon project”, he says. “And it will enable the team to offer a tailored approach to running a project. From there, we will go to the next phase of the project, which is centred around gathering detailed information.”
In Australia, growers must meet the requirements of the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). “There is a dropdown list of eligible new and additional practice changes”, Mr Heinzel says. “They can’t be management practises that the grower is already utilising. And they have to be within the dropdown criteria of the ERF. So, we will have to really look into the practices – which are not yet being used by the growers – and decide which are the best for the grower’s system, and then incorporate them into the grower’s land management strategy.”
Participants in projects of Australia’s carbon crediting scheme can earn Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) for every ton of tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2-e) emissions stored or avoided by a project. ACCUs can be sold to generate income, either to the Australian Government through a carbon abatement contract, or to companies and other private buyers in the secondary market.
Loam Bio might now be able to show on a large scale that its technology can increase the quantity and quality of carbon units farmers can produce per hectare. This would benefit the crops, but also would make participating in carbon projects more economically valuable for farmers.
The company is currently active in Australia, and plans to launch in the US and Canada in 2024 with SecondCrop. Currently, Loam Bio is aiming at broadacre crops, such as canola, barley, soy and corn.
Loam Co-founder and CPO, Tegan Nock, says Loam’s CarbonBuilder is the first of its kind. “A simple product that farmers can apply in the agricultural system enabling them to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it stably in soil. There’s not been a technology like it in the marketplace before…”