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“One of the challenges is we have products that farmers are using and many of these products are not sustainable” : Joyn Bio CEO

Mike Miille, Joyn Bio CEO joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss his startup Joyn Bio which aims to reduce pollution involved in large-scale agriculture.

Video Transcript


AKIKO FUJITA: On Tipping Point this week, we are talking about farming and efforts to reduce the agriculture industry's reliance on traditional chemical fertilizer, with its production and use amounting to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Boston-based Joyn Bio's offering an alternative. Let's bring in the CEO of Joyn Bio, Mike Millie, who joins us from San Diego today.

Mike, it's good to talk to you. Certainly an interesting topic here that I think is often overlooked in the broader discussion about climate. Walk me through the environmental impact. We just mentioned the amount of emissions that comes from the industry. But you've pointed out there's a much larger pollution picture.

MIKE MILLIE: I think it's one of the real challenges for us right now in terms of the food supply and food production. We have products that the farmers are using that are critical for the productivity and the yield and the growth. But many of these products are simply not sustainable for the long term.

And synthetic fertilizer is right at the top of that list. It's absolutely crucial for the yields and production of cereal crops, like corn and wheat. And at the same time, the production and the heavy use is not environmentally sustainable. And so we have to find a solution.

And at Joyn Bio, what our company is doing is looking to find microbes that will actually fix the nitrogen and transfer that to the corn plant as an alternative nitrogen supply that the grower can use. And we believe we can replace up to 50% of that synthetic fertilizer input with our microbial solution.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, so walk me through the science of that without getting too much in the weeds. When you're talking about specialized microbes, how that can be an alternative to what's out there. And ultimately, if the measure is reducing emissions, how significant is that reduction?

MIKE MILLIE: So there are certain crops out there that already fix nitrogen. Soybeans is a good example, legumes. And these are crops that have evolved and have microbes associated with them that actually fix the nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the plant. And so they have a minimal need for the nitrogen fertilizer.

In the case of corn and wheat, they do not have-- we've never been able to find microbes that associate with that corn or wheat plant through its life cycle and do the same thing, transfer that nitrogen to it. So at Joyn Bio, what we're doing is engineering microbes that specifically can fix that nitrogen and then transfer it to the corn plant over the course of the entire season.

If successful with this, we believe we can reduce that-- as I said, we can reduce that fertilizer input by up to 50%. And this would have a significant impact on both the production levels and the emission levels as well as the runoff and issues with the heavy use in the Gulf area.

AKIKO FUJITA: What does this shift to alternatives entail in terms of the cost? There's certainly going to be a lot of people watching this, saying, well, this sounds great. But how much more will it cost? And ultimately, the question being, will the costs get passed down to customers?

MIKE MILLIE: So it's twofold. I think one is, we talk a lot about farming and agriculture needing to be sustainable. And there's environmental sustainability, but it also has to be sustainable for the grower and the farmers. They have to be able to make a profit.

What we've shown is that if we can cut that input, if we can cut that fertilizer use by more than 25%, if we get up to 30%, 35%, 40%, it becomes economically exciting to that grower or to that farmer. The math works in their favor. And so we believe that, in turn, is going to allow them to reduce the cost and allow them to be more profitable. And again, this is about combining environmental sustainability with grower sustainability as a way to address the challenges that agriculture has over the next two or three decades.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Mike, I know you've already got partnerships in place with big names like Bayer. And I wonder how you square those partnerships, the environmental impact, in a positive way of using a Joyn Bio, with companies like Bayer, who still make a significant chunk of their revenue by deploying what is still considered hazardous chemicals. How do you look at that payoff as a company who is really trying to address not just the environmental elements of all of this but the health impact?

MIKE MILLIE: So I will say, Bayer as a partner is 100% committed to the sustainability. And they're really a leader in this. And it was why they put the investment in, along with Ginkgo Bioworks, started up Joyn Bio. It is that commitment to sustainability.

The way we look at this is, it's our job to bring innovation. And it's our job to bring choices to growers and consumers. We don't tell people what to use. What we're trying to do is bring a whole new class of solutions and products to both growers and to benefit consumers that, again, are both sustainable from the environmental standpoint, perform for the grower, and have costs associated with it for the grower that allow them to be sustainable in their efforts to bring food to the consumer.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah. It's certainly a very layered discussion here, as we see the overall goal of net zero by 2050, so many companies involved in that, including Joyn Bio. Mike Millie, the CEO of Joyn Bio, it's good to talk to you today.