In 2019, more than $1 billion of venture capital was invested in ag biotechnology startups. The total dollars invested in the sector dropped 33% from 2018, according to AgFunder, but that does not reflect the enthusiasm of entrepreneurs looking to help make the seeds farmers plant better for the next crop year.
For example, 6-year-old Sound Ag announced a $22 million Series C funding round this past May. It was led by S2G Ventures, Cultivian Sandbox, Fall Line Capital, Cavallo Ventures (the venture capital arm of Wilbur-Ellis) and Syngenta Ventures.
The investment will support the company’s on-demand plant breeding, which can shorten the product development cycle, explains Travis Bayer, Sound Ag co-founder.
“By using gene expression, what used to take years can be done in a matter of months,” he says.
The company is using its plant breeding platform to develop fresh market produce as well as row crops, including corn, soybeans and wheat. A row-crop solution Sound Ag is targeting addresses flowering time and seed size in wheat.
“Think of gene expression like a volume dial,” Bayer says. “Turning the dial up or down changes the expression and characteristics of the plant. This is different than genetic modification, which would be more similar to swapping out the technical components of the radio.”
Robots Propel Field Data Collection
In 2019, startup EarthSense says its 40 robots collected more than 10 terabytes of data, and the company will more than double collection this year with close to 100 robots. In the field, the robots are collecting data and taking high-resolution images under the crop canopy.
EarthSense has worked closely with a handful of universities and seed companies since 2017, including Corteva and Ag Reliant’s parent company KWS.
“Agriculture starts with the seed,” says Chinmay Soman, EarthSense co-founder and CEO. “In helping make better seed, we are helping make a better foundation for agriculture. And we have found a niche in delivering really unique data to make the crop breeding process more effective and cost less."
To learn more about the new technologies from Sound Ag and EarthSense, visit AgWeb.com/seed-investments