New Bayer-backed venture to focus on seed varieties optimised for vertical farming

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Leaps by Bayer, the investment arm of Bayer AG, and Temasek, a Singapore-based global investment company, have teamed up to jointly invest in and create a new company, Unfold. The new venture will focus on innovation in vegetable varieties with the goal of lifting the vertical farming space to the next level of quality, efficiency and sustainability.

While most start-ups in the vertical farming market are focusing on the development of more efficient infrastructure, Unfold claims to be the only company with unparalleled assets to unlock the genetic potential of vertical farming. By utilising the seed genetics (germplasm) from vegetable crops, Unfold will focus on developing new seed varieties coupled with agronomic advice tailored for the unique indoor environment of vertical farms.

Led by CEO John Purcell, Unfold will be a US entity headquartered in the Davis, California area with commercial and research and development operations in both California and Singapore. The company raised US$30 million in an initial funding round and has entered into an agreement for certain rights to germplasm from Bayer’s vegetable portfolio.

Unfold will support the hyperlocal production of consumer-pleasing vegetables while also addressing the increasing need for a reliable and safe supply of sustainably grown produce, especially in food deserts and in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Singapore, where Temasek is headquartered, is one of many mega-cities experiencing an increasing demand for fresh, sustainable and locally grown produce that has a smaller environmental footprint, using fewer resources to grow and ship, offering peak freshness and flavour.

“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,” said John Vaske, head of agribusiness at Temasek. “Investments in companies such as Unfold allow us and our partners to support innovative, sustainable solutions that will benefit all of us over the long term.”

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

“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,” concluded Purcell. “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, flavour and other consumer preferences. We look forward to serving the market through partnerships with vertical farming operators, technology providers and others across the produce supply chain.”

Unfold-CEO John Purcell

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