3Bar Biologics Drives Sustainability and Profitability in Agriculture Industry

When Rev1 first featured 3Bar Biologics on our blog in 2014, CEO and founder Bruce Caldwell mainly talked about his customers. It was late summer, the startup was deep in-market validation, and Bruce reckoned that he had visited more than sixty-five farms since the spring.

“I want to do something that is new innovative, and disruptive to the market place,” Bruce told us back then. Since then, 3Bar Biologics, a spinout of The Ohio State University, has achieved innovation, industry leadership, and more.

A CEO from a family of farmers builds a business to solve high-priority problems in agriculture

Both of Bruce’s grandfathers were farmers in Mississippi. One of his early jobs was turning compost piles and spreading natural fertilizer on the fields.

“Farming isn’t a simple life,” he said. “The variables a farmer has to deal with are incredible. Weather, equipment, complicated telemetry, biology, chemistry–the breadth of inputs they need to be really successful is quite complex.”

With Bruce’s farming heritage plus 30 years of customer discovery and innovation, it is no surprise that 3Bar Biologic’s business is based on customer and market validation. There have been pivots along the way. The firm, which began with microbe discovery as a spinout from The Ohio State University, has grown into a diversified microbe delivery and manufacturing company with operational and strategic partnerships up and down the supply chain, from distributors for 3Bar’s proprietary microbes to biological manufacturers to farmers and growers.

“We are an enabling technology company,” he said. “Our job is to demonstrate that our approach creates value for the biologics companies that are doing discovery work. Our solution ferments/grows  microbes in the final package, not in an industrial tank, delivering live microbes to the field to colonize the plant. There is nothing more important than agriculture. That was true when we started the company in 2014, and it is even more true now.”

Market conditions of price, scarcity and sustainability are upping the interest in “bugs.”

Microbes are naturally occurring organisms that promote crop health, enhance quality, and improve yields. However interested the industry may be in more natural and sustainable fertilizing methods, there have been significant challenges to commercializing microbes and delivering the “good bugs” to farmer’s fields.

With traditional packaging technologies, the shelf life of microbes is limited. Microbes, which are highly sensitive, must be active to work. If they come alive too soon (often before they even reach a farmer’s field), they become ineffective. When microbial products expire, manufacturers suffer inventory losses and hard dollar costs.

Additionally, the current manufacturing processes that produce microbes through fermentation in multi-million dollar stainless steel vats have consistency and contamination issues. As production volume increases, microbe quality decreases. Farmers lose money and confidence. This slows down their adoption of these improved technologies.

3Bar partners with microbe discovery and commercialization companies to overcome these barriers to microbe productization and rapidly and cost-effectively commercialize their microbes and accelerate time to market. The company’s proprietary biomanufacturing and LiveMicrobe™ Technology have re-invented the delivery of living microbial products.

“Since we started the company, we have seen tremendous changes in discovery work in the agriculture industry,” said CTO Jane Fife, Ph.D. “With high fertilizer and fuel costs and the cost and scarcity of nitrogen and phosphorous, we are seeing greater interest in using microbiology. Now all these things are coming together. Faced with these conditions, farmers are looking for other tools.”

3Bar is all about moving beneficial microbes to grower’s fields. “We improve the viability of the living product because our fermentation happens in the final packaging,” said Dr. Fife. “Our bio-manufacturing turns the conventional industry manufacturing paradigm on its head.”

Instead of seeking to improve traditional factory fermentation, 3Bar creates a powder containing dormant microbes. The powder is packaged in a two-chamber system that contains a sterile liquid. Manufacturing time is shorter at a fraction of the cost. The patented system can improve shelf-life up to two years.

“It’s a totally different approach,” Dr. Fife said. “We have been ahead of the industry. When we started six years ago, there was excitement about our products. Now we are getting the light bulb effect. The number of companies that are into biological agriculture has grown by orders of magnitude. Microbes are going to be a big deal, and farmers are going to adopt them once they know they can get good performance and a good return on their investment.”