Palmerston North, New Zealand-Based Agri-Tech Biolumic Opens World-First Research Centre

Palmerston North, New Zealand-Based Agri-Tech Biolumic Opens World-First Research Centre

Palmerston North, New Zealand-Based Agri-Tech Biolumic Opens World-First Research Centre

PAUL MITCHELL  |  May 25, 2018

MURRAY WILSON/STUFF

Biolumic founder and chief scientist Jason Wargent explains how the UV treatment works to Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith.

A bedroom experiment has budded into a pioneering agri-tech company with global reach in just six years.

Palmerston North agri-tech company Biolumic marked a new phase in its progress with the opening of a world-first ultraviolet photobiology research and development centre at Massey University on Friday.

Biolumic founder and chief scientist Jason Wargent said it was exciting, and mind-blowing, how fast the company had grown.

The Massey University associate professor's research focused on using UV light to boost plant growth and crop yields. Over the past six years he has developed it into a commercial product with business partner Biolumic chief executive Warren Bebb .

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It all started as an LED array the size of a dinner plate, which Wargent kept in his bedroom over the weekends so he could keep an eye on his seedlings.

"Now we're going overseas and demonstrating our process to some of the biggest crop growers in the world – and it's all being done from [Palmerston North]."

The city's mayor Grant Smith said Biolumic was an impressive example of what Manawatū companies could accomplish.

Biolumic has built a global reputation as a pioneer in its field, and employed scientists from all over the world, he said.

"It's like the UN of science ... and the fantastic thing is they're employing a lot of local graduates [as well]."

Biolumic has grown test crops of lettuce in Britain, Spain and Mexico, and has proven UV treatments can increase crop yields by up to 40 per cent in a variety of conditions.

Bebb said the new research and development centre would help develop tweaks to the treatment to tailor it for tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers and other highly valuable crops – as well as other applications such as pest control.

MURRAY WILSON/STUFF

Biolumic researcher Lulu He, left, and chief executive Warren Bebb, centre, take Sprout summit attendees on a tour of the new research and development centre.

Bebb said Biolumic's success had attracted significant overseas investment, which had allowed it to expand the management team to include a few technical and business specialists.

"We've got this far as a two-man management team. [So] it's really exciting, and a really big step for us."

Building Clever Companies chief executive Dean Tilyard said the centre's opening and tour was the "jewel in the crown" of the annual Sprout summit.

He said the two-day event, which started on Thursday, highlighted Manawatū as an agri-tech startup powerhouse to 14 major agri-tech investors and senior members of agricultural, technology and engineering companies from around the world.

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