Bactelife: The agritech company innovatively tackling Utah’s water crisis

Bactelife: The agritech company innovatively tackling Utah’s water crisis

Bactelife: The agritech company innovatively tackling Utah’s water crisis
Photo courtesy of Bactelife

Jeremy Andra calls himself a “solutions guy.” Present him with a problem; he’ll find an answer. He’s done it throughout his career, whether working in sleep science, medical technologies, thermal imaging, COVID-19 testing or digital marketing. 

But Andra’s latest foray into the critical field of agriculture—an industry he admits he had no prior experience in—has the potential to solve one of Utah’s most pressing issues: water conservation.

Andra serves as VP at Bactelife, a Cedar City, Utah-based company with an agricultural product that has exceeded the expectations of top Utah leadership.

The breakthrough came as an answer to Gov. Spencer Cox’s recent call to slash water consumption by 25 percent by 2026. Thanks to Bactelife’s H2Organix product, which has been implemented by farmers throughout the state and even throughout the Intermountain West, farmers have reduced crop water usage by 70 percent.

By sowing seeds of innovation that far outpaced the governor’s call to action, Bactelife reaped the benefits. In the last year alone, the company received a letter of support from Cox, a large state innovation grant and a 2023 Innovation Award from Utah Business. 

“Gov. Cox figured there was no better group than Utahns to figure out solutions,” Andra says. “We’re young entrepreneurs in a dominating state. We basically decided we were going to become that solution.”

In dire need: Utah’s water crisis

It’s no secret that water conservation is a massive concern for Utah’s future. While a strong snowpack in the 2022-23 season did provide some relief to the state’s shrinking supply, Cox was adamant about the continuing need to save water, use it responsibly and prepare for times when Mother Nature won’t supply a record-breaking winter year.

“While we are thankful for the record-breaking snowpack we received this season, we have to keep up the good work of conserving this precious natural resource,” Cox said in a statement in May. “Maintaining and expanding existing water-saving measures will only increase Utah’s ability to grow sustainably.”

Farmers were “a little freaked out” about the possibility of their water being cut back, Andra says, explaining that Cox has a farming background and wasn’t trying to simply take water rights from farmers. He and others, including Andra, believed the answer could be in technology.

Andra and his team, which includes Bactelife co-founder and CEO Duane Cutler and President Daniel Cluff, set out to enhance a bacteria-based product that could both reduce water usage and also improve crop yields.

Combining the expertise of a few other scientists, they developed a “super product” that combines living organisms with nanotechnology. The blend has been shown to create healthier, more efficient soil that requires less water.

“What we’re doing is feeding the soil and letting the soil feed the crops. It’s the way it was probably intended to be in nature, creating healthy relationships with soil and plants.”

How does it work?

As a soil additive, Bactelife’s top product, H2Organix, works to create fungi-like strands in the earth that create a cohesive, water-sharing unit working beneath the surface. Underground, the entire crop shares nutrients and water while also using bacteria to spread far and wide. 

“What we’re doing is feeding the soil and letting the soil feed the crops,” Andra says. “It’s the way it was probably intended to be in nature, creating healthy relationships with soil and plants.”

Andra uses H2Organix on his own lawn at his house in St. George. Despite watering for just eight minutes twice a week, he calls his yard “marshy” even in the Southern Utah desert.

But while Bactelife can give a boost to anyone’s backyard, the company knew its real impact would be in large-scale application to the agricultural industry.

One of the biggest challenges they faced, though, wasn’t just formulating the product but convincing farmers to use it. Andra explains that for many farmers, using a more “green” approach to their work can often mean a lot less green (money) in their pockets.

“A lot of these initiatives can come at the cost of the farmer, and that upsets the way they do things,” Andra says.

Instead, Bactelife has marketed itself as a soil enhancer with “the side effect of being climate-smart and green.”

“We are considerably cheaper than what they were previously using,” Andra says. “We didn’t want to do this at a cost to the farmer. We wanted to make this very comfortable for them.”

After seeing a rich increase in crop quality, farmers have fallen in love with Bactelife—and enjoyed the climate-friendly benefits as an added bonus. Steve Worthen, who runs a farm in Blackfoot, Idaho, gushed about the product in a recent letter of support.

In his words, “Bactelife saved my crops in 2022.”

According to Worthen, it was a rough year for his 3,250 acres of alfalfa and timothy hay. Even though hay was having a bear moment at the market, it seemed like everything was working against him. But despite being forced to reduce water usage by 40 percent, working with a skeleton crew and a near-catastrophic pump breakdown, Worthen’s crops stayed healthy the whole time.

“I honestly don’t know if I would have much of a crop without Bactelife,” Worthen wrote. “Most products presented to me don’t measure up. They do well in a study but not on a farm. Farms have problems that students do not measure and circumstances almost impossible to overcome. Bactelife has helped my farm overcome some hard circumstances, and I will use Bactelife products going forward.”

Reducing global water use, one drop at a time

With an impressive list of accolades and endorsements, the secret is out on Bactelife’s effectiveness. Andra and associates have friends in high places, too—like Rep. Celeste Maloy, one of Utah’s most environmentally conscious congressional leaders. Bactelife is actively lobbying for farmers to be compensated for the water they don’t use.

“For every bit of water that gets saved, we would like to see the farmers get credit for that and get money,” Andra says. “If they can make money on both ends by not only growing and having more success with our products but also making money by saving water, that’s a win-win.”

The Bactelife team has also expanded its footprint beyond Utah and Idaho into international territory. At first, they were working with leaders of Ukraine, which many refer to as the “breadbasket of Europe.” 

Bactelife was also connected to groups in Israel, where the harsh desert climate prompted major innovations in agriculture. After showing the Bactelife effect and the company’s involvement in Utah Tech University’s new START AgriTech program, Israeli leaders are now excited to support continued breakthroughs taking place in Utah.

“We originally wanted to be a solution for Utah,” Andra says. “Now, we see the bigger picture. We want to be a Utah solution for the world.”

Bactelife: The agritech company innovatively tackling Utah’s water crisis
Photo courtesy of Bactelife

Austin Facer comes from a legacy of journalism in Utah. He loves the state, comedy podcasts and simply walking around, looking at stuff. In addition to freelance writing, he also works as a Public Relations Manager at a Salt Lake-based ad agency.