Upstream Ag Insights - April 23rd 2023
Essential news and analysis for agribusiness leaders
Welcome to the 165th Edition of Upstream Ag Insights!
Index for the week:
Harpe Bioherbicide Solutions, Inc. Closes New Investment Round, Including ADM
GROWERS, Koch Agronomic Services Join Forces
Pivot Bio N-OVATOR™ Program Launches
CropX Closes $30m Series C
We Didn’t Produce This Much Only to Produce This Much + The Case for AgARDA
Ginkgo Bioworks and Syngenta Seeds Announce Collaboration to Develop New Traits for the Next Generation of Seed Technology
SYNAP is the New Corporate Brand of the Syngenta Commerce Platform
Winning in the Ag Machinery Space: Integrated Tech Stacks and Precision Technology
Association of Equipment Manufacturers 2023 Economic Impact Report
The Future of Ag Equipment Financing
John Deere 2023 Tech Summit Recap
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Harpe Bioherbicide Solutions, Inc., an agricultural technology company focused on providing natural and sustainable herbicide solutions, today announced a $10.5 million round of fundraising, led by ADM. Follow-on investments in the oversubscribed round included iSelect Fund Management and Alexandria Investment Ventures as well as company leadership and private agricultural industry investors.
The raise from Harpe Bioherbicide Solutions this week is notable for a couple of reasons:
The company has a bioherbicide with unique modes of action.
ADM invested in the early-stage bioherbicide company.
Note: The first portion is more science/agronomy based for those wanting to skip to point #2 on ADM.
The bioherbicide is derived from plant extracts, specifically from the mint family.
It is not uncommon for conventional herbicides or insecticides to be derived from plants. For example, pyrethroids, commonly used group 3 insecticides such as deltamethrin, are derived from the dried flower heads of Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium.
In looking at how the mint family extracts work, I found 3rd party research that identifies numerous extractable components that affect weeds in beta-pinene and menthone. Other 3rd party research shows a host of others:
The exciting part is that even though these can all be pulled from the same plant family, they seemingly have different modes of action. For example, menthone activates a process in plants through which microtubules self-destruct. The pinene triggers “cellular suicide” by acting on actin filaments— a stabilizing component of the cell skeleton. Others have more specific allelopathic signaling effects, mitigating seed germination.
New herbicide modes of action are challenging because many criteria must be met in unison. It must inhibit the target weed at low concentrations while leaving the crop species unaffected at this concentration. It should be producible at a competitive cost and should not be toxic to other organisms. Certain species and extract molecules in the mint family meet that criterion.
The science behind Harpe is promising, with one of the biggest challenges in reading the journal articles being formulation and active ingredient delivery which is an area to cover more in depth in Upstream in the future.
That leads us to ADM being involved as point #2.
ADM has an active venture investment team. In reading the press release, this was not an investment made by their VC group but by the operating business itself, as the quote in the release comes from the “vice president of commercial development for ADM's mint business.”
In the Farm Progress article, there is a quote from the Harpe CEO, Bill Buckner:
The key is having enough mint to mass-produce the product. Buckner notes the company will be looking at global suppliers. “We also have the option of sourcing synbio versions of the necessary molecules.”
ADM is a vertically integrated market leader in the mint space, with their mint varieties accounting for approximately 20% of the US market:
Years ago, we had the foresight to invest in a robust plant science program to help create hearty plant varieties that were resistant to disease, as a way to preserve mint farming in the U.S.
They are integrated into processing and delivering a final product to end-user companies.
Growing the use case for mint and the demand for their varieties and processing capabilities—or the ability to tweak varieties specifically to produce more specific active ingredient molecules- is a great way to drive their mint business long term so they want to see Harpe become successful.
At the same time, if Harpe wants to scale, they need steady and relatively inexpensive access to the raw product. This is especially true if they were ever to get acquired by an agriculture incumbent— a route to scaled production makes them more valuable.
That makes for a powerful alignment between these two groups coming together.
The last part of the CEO’s quote is on “synbio,” which is notable too, which you can read more on in the story on Gingko Bioworks and Syngenta.
2. GROWERS, Koch Agronomic Services Join Forces - GROWERS
GROWERS is delighted to announce Koch Agronomic Services (KAS) will leverage the GROWERS' platform to introduce farmers to KAS's product portfolio. KAS will utilize the unique functionality of The GROWERS App to promote companion and alternative products to farmers as they research inputs to purchase and conduct comparisons of different brands. Farmers can learn more about those products and add them to a product request to be sent directly to their retail partners through The GROWERS App.
Several announcements like this have been in North America over the past few years, including from CommoditAg and Agro.Club.
What can we learn from them?