The Path to Sustainable Agriculture: Pivot Bio Raises $430M Series D

By DCVC 07.16.21

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer’s invention in 1914 was among the most profound breakthroughs of the last 150 years, rivaling the discovery of penicillin. While penicillin is the foundation for modern antibiotics and responsible for saving millions of lives across the globe, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is responsible for feeding an additional four billion people who would not otherwise be alive. The global food system simply could not support our population without it.

But like penicillin, this essential tool is becoming an existential threat. Though nitrogen is critical to productive growth, crops only use about half the total synthetic nitrogen applied to agricultural fields. The unused portion finds its way into the environment, emitted as nitrous oxide or seeping into water sources. Synthetic nitrogen is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions from farming and its runoff significantly contributes to the more than 500 global oceanic dead zones. There’s also mounting proof that synthetic nitrogen is correlated to the degradation of farm soils. So the more synthetic nitrogen we use to increase the food supply, the more farm soil degrades and jeopardizes the livelihood of farmers and the entire food system.

Today, Pivot Bio announced a $430 million Series D, led by DCVC and Temasek, to fuel the continued and accelerating release of the company’s synthetic nitrogen fertilizer replacement, which has replaced synthetic nitrogen on more than 1 million crop acres in 2021 alone. Using proprietary computational and microbiome technologies, multi-scale automated testing and deep scientific expertise—Deep Tech, in other words—Pivot Bio figured out a way to reprogram naturally occurring soil microbes to increase the amount of nitrogen they produce and eliminate the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to be applied in the field.

The benefits of Pivot Bio’s solution are immediate and dramatic. For farmers, Pivot Bio offers more streamlined operations and a more consistent, weatherproof way to ensure nitrogen is delivered into the crop throughout the growing season. Since Pivot’s microbes are planted with the crop seed and not layered on top of the soil, farmers can reduce the machinery and labor required to nourish crops and they don’t have to worry about expensive fertilizer washing away in the rain. Further, Pivot Bio’s microbes don’t degrade the soil like synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, ensuring that farms can continue to produce crops for generations to come.

For the rest of society, Pivot’s benefits are even more dramatic. By decreasing and permanently removing nitrogen emissions from the environment, Pivot Bio can potentially prevent approximately $200 billion in environmental impact. And by delivering more consistent yields even in the face of an increasingly volatile climate, Pivot’s solution can continue to support the needs of our global food supply without sacrificing our air, water and soil to do it.

More than anything, what Pivot Bio represents is a hopeful vision of the future. Similar to other DCVC portfolio companies like Oklo, Twelve and more, the company’s Deep Tech breakthrough is helping to address the harmful impact society’s growth has had on our planet. That’s one of the reasons why we have been such ardent supporters of these companies. We participated in every one of Pivot’s funding rounds, leading its Seed, Series A and Series D, because we believe that we’ll be better off as a society and planet as its microbial nitrogen solution is adopted by more farmers across more acres. We’re excited to see what’s next!