Startup “Turns Up” Gene Expression For Yield Advancements

04:18PM Jul 15, 2020
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Six-year old company Sound Agriculture aims to commercialize discoveries in how plants interact with their environment. 

The company has a two-fold focus for 2020—continue development of its next-generation plant breeding platform as well as grow its first commercial product Source, which is a biochemistry that stimulates soil microbes for nitrogen and phosphorus supply. 

Additionally, in April, the company announced a new CEO, Adam Litle, who was one of the founding team at Granular. 

"Our mission is unique in that we are creating a more sustainable food through on-demand crop solutions," Litle says. " For farmers, we are providing products that reduce the reliance on fertilizer, and for consumers we are improving plant nutrition and taste without gene modification.

In May, the company announced a $22 million Series C funding round, led by S2G Ventures (Seed 2 Growth), and existing investors, Cultivian Sandbox , Fall Line Capital , Cavallo Ventures and Syngenta Ventures , also participated.

Co-founder Travis Bayer explains the company’s on-demand plant breeding can change the product development cycle from up to seven years to less than a year. 

“By using gene expression, what used to take years can be done in a matter of months,” Bayer says. 

The company is using its plant breeding platform to develop fresh market produce as well as row crops, including corn, soybeans and wheat. One early row crop breeding solution they are targeting is flowering time and seed size in wheat. 

You can think of gene expression like a volume dial," Bayer says. "Turning the dial up or down changes the expression and characteristics of the plant. This is very different than genetic modification, which would be more analogous to swapping out the technical components of the radio."

Regarding its Source product, the company says it sold out its supply for 2020 and engaged in multiple product trials across the country with ag retailers and farmers. One such retailer is MKC.

Nathan Larson is a strategic account manager at MKC and says as a trusted adviser to farmers, the team at MKC has to stay on top of new technologies and evaluating their return on investment to farmers. 

“I think crop fertility, and specifically biologicals to improve nutrient uptake, is the next thing farmers are really looking at,” Larson says. “When we looked at the previous research on Source, we wanted to include it in our own trials because it’s huge for us to bring new products and new ideas to farmers.” 

Sprayed in the early season (V4 or V5 in corn), Source is a tank mix compatible bio-inspired chemistry.  Source can also be used at the VT stage before tassel. 

MKC has dozens of split trials out in 2020, mostly in corn, to evaluate the Source product. 

Another retailer doing product trials of Source this year is Growmark. 

“We know we have to deliver return on investment to the farmer,” says Eric Mowen, specialty product manager at Growmark. “The biological space is a bit like uncharted territory and the next frontier. And we are trying to find the ones that have repeatable success and could be home runs.”

Source is the first of many biochemistry products from Sound Agriculture, according to its leaders. 

“We have a pipeline of novel chemistries and traits so that we aren’t a one trick pony,” Bayer says.