Planting the seeds of a greener future
Spring is arriving in the Northern hemisphere, and with it comes new opportunities to plant the seeds of a greener, more sustainable future. At the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco, I was inspired to hear about innovative technologies and approaches that can move us towards a future with healthier people and a healthier planet. As the new growing season begins, I wanted to take stock of our own investments in sustainable agriculture and to imagine what lies ahead.
I’ve been delighted to see many of our Leaps investments beginning to bear fruit, bringing new agricultural approaches closer to farmers. Andes Bio recently announced its new carbon program, which pays farmers to add carbon-sequestering microbes to their fields, reducing their environmental footprint. To date, Andes has successfully managed to remove more than 50,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere through their unique approach to engineering microbes. Another Leaps investment, EarthOptics, is partnering with ForGround by Bayer to bring farmers the tools and resources they need to implement regenerative agriculture. And our portfolio company Rantizo as it expands the customer base to 29 different states for its innovative approach to crop spraying, using drones to treat hard-to-reach areas and streamline the spraying process.
Farmers aren’t the only ones to benefit from these new technologies: several Leaps portfolio companies are bringing healthier, more sustainable foods to consumers as well. Fork and Good, our first investment in the cultivated meat space, just opened a new headquarters and pilot facility in Jersey City to produce its cultivated ground pork, and its innovative approaches were recently highlighted in The Washington Post. And as Forbes reports, Sound Ag has just launched its new, epigenetically modified tomato, whose gene expression has been tuned to combine great flavor with shelf stability. I was delighted to see Sound’s tomato discussed in a World Agri-Tech panel on solving agriculture’s greatest challenges with genomics, which featured Sound CTO Travis Bayer; Bob Reiter, the head of Bayer’s Crop Science R&D; and Tom Adams, CEO of Leaps investment Pairwise. These connections highlight the crucial importance of cross-talk and collaboration as we tackle the multifaceted challenge of making agriculture more sustainable.
As the pace of climate change continues to accelerate, Leaps is committed to planting additional seeds of change. One major challenge is to build more resilient, sustainable food systems to withstand future water and climate instability. I was inspired by the panel on “Designing food for long-term resilience and nutrition” featuring Kathryn Cook, CEO of Leaps portfolio company NuCicer, which is breeding high-protein chickpeas that provide more sustainable, plant-based proteins. As rising temperatures and extreme weather take their toll on crops, next-generation crop protection platforms are also essential for increasing agricultural resilience. I enjoyed the roundtable discussion on crop protection led by OerthBio CEO John Dombrosky. OerthBio is building an innovative platform that uses protein degraders to help plants adapt to environmental stressors, improving crop resilience and protecting plant health. Thinking about more resilient food-supplies, I was delighted to spend time with Alexandre Borges, CEO of Grao Direto, the largest digital grain trading platform in Brazil, which has brought transparency and promoted sustainable practices in the Brazilian agricultural ecosystem with its sustainability badging system.
Genomic technologies also provide transformative tools that can help us engineer more nutritious, delicious crops. Leaps investment Pairwise is using gene editing to produce new, delicious varieties of berries and leafy greens called Conscious™ Foods, and their first product, a gene-edited salad mix, is hitting select markets this year. New technologies are crucial not only in plant breeding, but also in helping farmers transition to precision farming. As big data continues to transform agriculture, farmers will need more and more information about soil, water, and carbon sequestered to guide growing decisions and implement more sustainable agricultural practices. Digital platforms and partnerships like those led by EarthOptics will be crucial for giving growers the information they need to make sustainable, cost-effective decisions.
Agriculture undoubtedly faces challenges this year as labor shortages, rising inflation, and the continuing effects of climate change continue to disrupt farming practices. But the seeds of change are already growing, and I’m hopeful that these challenges present opportunities to build a more resilient, sustainable food supply system. In the next year, I expect to see digital technologies for collecting soil and water insights to move us closer to the age of precision farming, and I’m optimistic that advances in robotics can help increase the efficiency of farming practices. I also hope to see additional efforts to scale up next-generation technologies and make them more accessible and affordable to farmers around the world. It will take a new ecosystem to combat the challenges of climate change and feed the planet, but I believe that through innovation and collaboration, we can build a healthier, greener future together.