Mosaic Picks Up Plant Response to Boost Soil Health Plans

Plant Response Mosaic joint logo

Plant Response established its Research Triangle Park roots two years ago. Those roots are set to grow deeper, nourished with the backing of a large fertilizer and crop nutrients business.

The Mosaic Company has acquired Plant Response as part of an ongoing strategy to build up its presence in soil-health products.

Tom Snipes, CEO of Plant Response, says his company was not looking for a buyer, or even a partner. The startup did have some conversations with Mosaic about a technology for phosphate utilization, but prior to that, there was no business connection. However, the talks about Plant Response’s technology progressed to more substantial discussions about a deeper relationship. The acquisition closed in late February. The companies did not disclose financial terms, but Snipes said Mosaic provides resources and scale as well as key customer relationships that span the globe.

Tom Snipes
CEO Tom Snipes.

“All will aid us to scale the business more rapidly—get more products in the field, the lab, the greenhouse,” Snipes said. “In that regard, it’s a huge game changer for us.”

Plant Response develops and markets biological products that improve plant and soil health. It began with research at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, which was spun out as a Madrid-based startup in 2008. In 2020, Plant Response established an outpost in the Research Triangle, first operating from temporary office space through the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Landing Pad program, and then moving into its own offices in RTP.

The Plant Response that Mosaic acquired is different than the one that began in Madrid. The startup has raised funding from investors that include Alexandria Venture Investments, Koch Agronomic Holdings, Laird Norton Company, iSelect Fund, Second Avenue Partners, Middleland Capital, Yara, Novozymes, and Leaps by Bayer. Plant Response has also grown via acquisitions. In 2020, the company merged with Koch Biological Solutions, which brought expertise in biological modes of action at the genetic and whole-plant level. Soon after that deal, Plant Response expanded its capability to formulate different biological products with the purchase of Florida company Pathway BioLogic. The most recent business transaction was the 2021 acquisition of WISErg, a Seattle-area startup that captures nutrients from food scraps and turns them into fertilizer.

The breadth of Plant Response’s portfolio, and its pipeline of products in development, proved attractive to Mosaic, Snipes said. The Tampa, Florida-based company produces and sells phosphate and potash crop nutrients that are used all over the world. In full year 2021 financial results, Mosaic  reported $12.4 billion in revenue, up 42% over the prior year. The company’s profit was $1.6 billion, a 145% year-over-year increase.

Mosaic’s efforts to grow include initiatives in soil health. The company has struck deals with companies that develop and sell soil products. One of those partners is RTP-based AgBiome, which last year started a partnership with Mosaic focused on discovering, developing, and potentially commercializing new biological products that improve soil’s fertility. According to an investor presentation, Mosaic has spent $50 million on deals with AgBiome, Plant Response, and others in an effort to build its product pipeline.

Plant Response’s internal pipeline has several product candidates intended to help plants use nutrients more efficiently. Those products have limited overlap with what Mosaic already has, Snipes said. One key Plant Response product in development is for phosphate utilization. Snipes notes that phosphate is a key product for Mosaic, and the company is interested in creating more phosphate opportunities.

As Plant Response becomes part of its new corporate parent, Snipes said his company will be able to maintain some level of independence. Mosaic will retain Plant Response’s workforce of between 50 and 60 (Snipes said headcount fluctuates seasonally), and the company will continue to be based in the Triangle. Snipes said it’s difficult to project how many new employees could be added, but he is now looking for a larger location that offers lab and greenhouse space.

“Mosaic brings a different level of resources that finally allows us to execute on that,” Snipes said.

Frank Vinluan, NCBiotech Writer
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