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$ 8.5 million for crop breeding AI-platform

Computational crop breeding company Hi Fidelity Genetics closed a $ 8.5 million round of financing for their AI-platform to bring predictive data science to crop breeding.

The Series A round of financing was 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.”

Crop breeding decisions made by artificial intelligence

In an era of low commodity prices, climate volatility and decreased rates of genetic improvement, the importance of novel sensors and plant traits is heightened, says the company. Crop breeding decisions will, according to HFG, 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 market, with an initial focus on broad acre crops such as corn and cotton.

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"Traditional breeding methods are manual and expensive, and there has been no scalable option to breed for root traits,"noted Dr. Spencer Maughan, co-founder of HFG and Finistere Ventures. - Photo: Koos Groenewold
"Traditional breeding methods are manual and expensive, and there has been no scalable option to breed for root traits,"noted Dr. Spencer Maughan, co-founder of HFG and Finistere Ventures. - Photo: Koos Groenewold

“When my team at DuPont Pioneer created the 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.

Prediction engine for hybrid seed creation

Working with farmers, HFG has developed new non-Genetically Modified (non-GM) corn hybrids that “are competitive with current commercial seed,” says the company. “Our 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.

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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,” noted Clay Mitchell of Fall Line Capital. Photo: Mark Pasveer
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,” noted Clay Mitchell of Fall Line Capital. Photo: Mark Pasveer

“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

“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.”

Hi Fidelity Genetics

Hi Fidelity Genetics (HFG) is a computational breeding company in Durham, North Carolina that uses novel sensors, data science and statistical genetics to create “the best crop plants in the world”. Its technology platform aims to help farmers manage yield risks by optimizing and protecting crop yield in the face of a volatile climate. HFG developed the RootTracker to analyze growing roots in the field, and Luther, an end-to-end AI breeding engine.

Also read: Microsoft: "Great potential for AI in agriculture"

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