The Innovators: Terramera is out to transform food production

Karn Manhas's company brings cleantech to agriculture, while helping fight COVID-19 on the side.

Credit: Courtesy of Terramera

A rooftop greenhouse at Terramera

Karn Manhas’s company brings cleantech to agriculture, while helping fight COVID-19 on the side

Terramera has been playing the field lately. Founded by biologist, lawyer and former MLA Karn Manhas in 2010, the company changed the agriculture game with Actigate, a technology that can make plant-based active ingredients more effective than synthetic pesticides and fertilizers by delivering them straight to target cells. Thanks to that innovation, Vancouver-based Terramera made the 2019 Global Cleantech 100 list.

As the 135-employee outfit leaves its startup phase and looks ahead to 2030, Manhas says, it’s building out the machine learning, artificial intelligence and computational chemistry side of the business. The goal is to transform food production and the economics of agriculture, he explains, but in the meantime, his company has put those capabilities to good use during the pandemic. Through the B.C.-based Canada’s Digital Supercluster, Terramera collaborated with UBC researchers to learn how the virus that causes COVID-19 is mutating, Manhas says. Their efforts yielded insights into applying treatments and vaccines “not only to the virus as it is now but to how it’s going to go, so we don’t have to go through this again.”

In November, Terramera announced its proposed Global Centre for Regenerative Agriculture, a public-private effort to tackle Canada’s economic, climate and food security crises by connecting cleantech with agriculture. No biggie, right? The animating idea behind the $730-million project: pulling carbon from the air and moving it underground to improve soil health.

“The plan we’re developing creates a way for farmers to earn money from a full range of practices that are better for crops, plant health and the environment,” Manhas says. “If Canada gets behind this proposal, we can generate millions of new jobs, generate trillions for the economy—that’s trillions with a T—and get Canada to net zero.”