An Ohio Company is Fighting Weeds With UV Light

How Dayton-area startup Global Neighbor is making agriculture more environmentally friendly

For years, we’ve known that pesticides and other materials can negatively affect the environment and the crops that are grown from them. So how can farmers and other agricultural producers maintain their crops efficiently without harming the environment? At Xenia startup Global Neighbor, they believe they have the answer, and it comes from light.

“Global Neighbor uses a technology called directed energy floral control,” said President and Co-founder Jon Jackson. “We developed a technique of using high-intensity, short durations of different wavelengths of light to elicit different growth patterns in plants and seeds. In plants, particularly weeds, we can make seeds non-viable or stimulate them for faster germination.”

The company developed their technology through the Air Force’s Small Business Innovation Research program and further fleshed out their company through Aglaunch, an agriculture-focused accelerator program. Now, they’re working to commercialize the technology in a variety of product and launched the Weed Erase, their first consumer offering, in 2019.

“Our first product to market was called the Weed Erase — it’s a consumer product that you use around the house for spot-killing weeds in a garden or mulch bed,” Jackson said. “It uses a high-intensity blue light, and you put it right on top of the weed, pull the trigger for three seconds and the weed is gone. It gives it a lethal exposure and that weed dies over the course of the next couple days. It’s selling really well, and we’re working on a battery operated version.”

In 2020, they began work on a more large-scale agricultural application of their technology, which is still in the works. Rather than tackling weeds after they’ve grown, this new product would enable farmers to treat an entire area with the technology, changing the way seeds are capable of growing before they ever become weeds.

“At the moment, our big focus is making weed seeds non-viable at harvest,” Jackson said. “We’re adding our recipe of light to the back of a combine, which separates everything out. We run that separated material through an auger system, and when the weed seeds get blown back into the field, they’ve been devitalized. It’s the coolest thing. We can make those seeds not become plants with greater than 90 percent efficacy after only a one- or two-second exposure.”

As their name suggests, Global Neighbor is ultimately all about making our environment and products cleaner and safer. But that goal doesn’t diminish their business potential. As farmers and organizations across the world continue to emphasize green technology and cleaner products, Global Neighbor can help, and it means that their timing couldn’t be better.

“We have a technology that sits at the intersection of three major trends: the increase in prices for farmers, herbicide resistance among weeds and the push toward reducing impact on the environment,” Jackson said. “We can help farmers achieve these goals and maintain profitability by offering a piece of machinery that helps them in those endeavors. Our direct energy method can do all three, and we have incredibly good margins on our product because the benefit to the farmers is so high.”

And for Jackson, launching a project in Ohio with such a high ceiling is a point of pride. He said he hopes to be part of a new wave of agricultural innovation that can bring farmers and their critical work into the modern era.

“I spent my teen years on a farm in Ohio, so I have some knowledge and understanding of what these farmers are going through and I commiserate,” he said. “There are a lot of pressures and a lot of things they have to do to produce their products. We have this unique opportunity, as a company, to help address trends that are going in the wrong direction. We can help these farmers while reducing the amount of chemicals that go into the soil and end up in the waterways. That’s why we’re so passionate about this.”

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