Source: Hi Fidelity Genetics news release
Hi Fidelity Genetics (HFG), a computational crop breeding company, announced it has closed an $8.5 million Series A round of financing co-led by agtech investment pioneers Fall Line Capital and Finistere Ventures. Gro Alliance, KdT Ventures, Prairie Crest Capital, S2G and Tom Farms also joined the round.
“In agriculture, the most consolidated point of value and technology is genetics because the only thing a farmer actually has to buy to be in business is a seed. Unfortunately, many farmers don’t have access to high-quality genetics at reasonable cost,” noted Dr. Spencer Maughan, co-founder of HFG and Finistere Ventures. “By using novel data sets and predictive data science to create the first end-to-end predictive breeding platform for crops, HFG is changing this paradigm and empowering farmers.”
In an era of low commodity prices1, climate volatility2 and decreased rates of genetic improvement3, the importance of novel sensors and plant traits is heightened. Crop breeding decisions will be increasingly made by artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive data science. HFG will use this investment to bring its breeding platform to the $50B+ global agricultural seed market4, with an initial focus on broad acre crops such as corn and cotton.
“When my team at DuPont Pioneer created the industry leading, drought tolerant AQUAmax maize hybrids, we were the first to apply genomic selection to develop commercial products. I’m excited to work with HFG to take this powerful breeding technology to the next level for the benefit of farmers,” added Dr. Mark Cooper, consulting CTO at HFG.
Working with leading farmers, HFG has developed new non-Genetically Modified (non-GM) corn hybrids that are competitive with current commercial seed. HFG’s data-driven approach has helped drive rapid improvement of its proprietary corn seed and dramatically decreased the cost of traditional breeding. With the funding, HFG will accelerate development of RootTracker, the first scalable in-field root architecture sensor system for breeding more robust root systems, and Luther, its end-to-end artificial intelligence (AI) breeding platform with the first prediction engine for hybrid seed creation.
“Since the early 2000s, seed corn prices have gone up 2.5x faster than corn prices, eroding the farmer’s share of farm-gate value. The ability of HFG’s technology to rapidly create outstanding corn seed and the company’s initial focus on delivering seed into the non-GM market, which has the lowest regulatory hurdles, frames a really exciting opportunity for creating value,” noted Clay Mitchell of Fall Line Capital.
“Traditional breeding methods are manual and expensive, and there has been no scalable option to breed for root traits. However, the importance of roots in confronting abiotic stress, such as drought and nutrient scarcity, is well known. HFG solves for this limitation and delivers the first cost-effective, non-destructive, in-field approach to objectively map roots from individual plants to make advanced root breeding possible,” continued Maughan.
“As climate volatility and water availability make current corn seed more vulnerable to large changes in yield performance, HFG sees incredible potential to build genomes with ‘drought insurance’ via enhanced root performance,” said Maughan.
To help lead the R&D and commercial efforts, the company has appointed Dr. Bill Niebur as COO and president. Most recently serving as the CEO of Origin Agritech, Niebur previously led Pioneer Dupont’s efforts in China after completing a lengthy tenure as Pioneer’s global head of R&D. “I could not pass up the chance to join the dynamic HFG team and accelerate product development and commercialization. Combining the understanding of how to improve below-ground performance of plants with the predictive power of machine learning focused on heterosis within Luther, HFG can bring novel variation and value to growers across the spectrum of agricultural environments,” remarked Dr. Niebur.
Clay Mitchell of Fall Line Capital has joined the Board of Directors as Chairman alongside Finistere’s Arama Kukutai to actively support the company’s aggressive growth and help build its farmer- and commercial-partner network.
HFG’s growing team will now be based in its new headquarters in Durham, North Carolina. The company plans to continue to expand its hardware engineering, data science and molecular teams in the year ahead.