Leaps By Bayer and Temasek Form New Vertical Farming Startup Unfold

Unfold has raised US$30M from Temasek and Leaps by Bayer, and will be headquartered in the U.S.

Singapore’s sovereign investment arm Temasek and Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of Bayer AG, have entered into a joint venture and unveiled their new vertical farming startup, Unfold, Bayer announced in a statement on Wednesday.

Unfold has raised US$30 million in the initial round of financing and entered into an agreement for certain rights to germplasm (seed genetics) from Bayer’s vegetable portfolio, according to the statement.

The new venture will be based in the U.S. with its headquarter in California, and led by CEO John Purcell, the former Head of Vegetables R&D at Bayer, the statement noted. The company will have key operations in both the U.S. and Singapore, it added.

The new venture will focus on innovation in vegetable varieties with the goal of increasing the quality, efficiency, and sustainability of vertical farming, the statement noted.

Unfold aims to develop new seed varieties coupled with agronomic advice tailored for the indoor environment of vertical farms, it added.

Vertical farming refers to the process of growing crops in vertically stacked layers in controlled environments in indoor farms or plant facilities with artificial light (PFAL).

It utilizes artificial light, reduces dependency on synthetic chemistry and other crop inputs, optimizes water usage and allows food growth in challenging environments with limited arable land, according to the statement.

Vertical farms can accelerate crop growth, enabling the growth of fresh, local produce utilizing less area and fewer natural resources, while reducing the need for food logistics and transportation, the statement added.

While most vertical farming startups are focussing on the development of more efficient infrastructure, Unfold will focus on unlocking the genetic potential of vertical farming by utilizing the seed genetics from vegetable crops, the statement said.

Unfold will support the hyperlocal production of fresh and better-tasting fruits and vegetables and address the increasing need for a reliable and safe supply of sustainably grown produce, especially in deserts and in times of crisis such as the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Unfold unlocks the power of vertical farming by offering new seed varieties for farming operations that are focused on produce quality – a process that wastes less food, is fresher and ultimately tastes better as a result,” Purcell said in a statement released yesterday by Unfold.

According to him, “What sets Unfold apart is its unparalleled investment in germplasm and crop growth models best suited for vertical farming environments, an area currently largely underserved.”

“As a company fully focused on the vertical farming industry, Unfold will combine leading seed genetics with the best agtech experts in order to dramatically advance productivity, flavor and other consumer preferences,” he added.

The startup will serve the market through partnerships with vertical farming operators, technology providers and others across the produce supply chain, said Purcell.

Leaps by Bayer was built to drive fundamental breakthroughs in the fields of health and agriculture through biotechnology, and aims to reduce environmental impact of agriculture, cure genetic diseases, develop sustainable protein supply, and more.

The latest investment is in line with Bayer’s vision of “Health for All, Hunger for None”, a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations has set for 2030, especially the goals of assuring healthy lifestyles and putting an end to hunger.

“Innovation that offers sustainable solutions for agriculture is one of the 10 areas of engagement and investment that Leaps by Bayer is focused on,” said Jürgen Eckhardt, Head of Leaps by Bayer.

“The investment in Unfold is a great example of a transformative, creative approach to developing agricultural products that meets the needs of consumers, farmers and the planet by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables, supporting sustainably grown, hyperlocal production and addressing food security challenges faced by growing urban populations,” he added.

Investment in the vertical farming market has increased significantly over the years due to decreasing arable land, increasing market demand for local, sustainable produce and migration towards mega-cities, the statement notes.

Besides, the ever-increasing population and demand for higher yields, depletion of ground water and changing climate conditions have also driven the need for alternative farming practices.

The global vertical farming market size was valued at $2.13 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 24.8% and reach 12.04 billion by 2026, according to a report by Fortune Business Insights.

According to the statement, Singapore is one of the many mega-cities experiencing an increasing demand for fresh, sustainable and locally grown produce.

John Vaske, Head of Agribusiness at Temasek said, “The global food challenges we increasingly face require us to rethink traditional farming practices. We need to ensure secure farm-to-fork supply chains in urban settings while we also work to reduce the overall environmental impact of farming.”

“Reducing food waste and improving the safety, traceability and nutritional value of food are all the more important as populations grow and demands for food expand,” he added.

Header image courtesy of Unfold

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