Welcome to another week of Fundings in Brief with AgFunderNews!
With Halloween right around the corner, images of bats are adorning porches and classrooms around the nation, but did you know bats may also be worth billions to the agriculture industry? According to recent studies, bats deliver $1 billion in value to the global corn industry, $3.7 billion to North American agriculture, and close to $1 billion a year for south-central Texas cotton farmers. These statistics are drawing attention to the many threats that beneficial bat populations face, including wind turbines, deadly funguses linked to long-term pesticide exposure, and dwindling habitat. Scientists and researchers are hard at work developing solutions to ensure bat populations continue to haunt fields and farms across the globe.
Moving onto this week’s fundings, international seed company Origene Seeds closed a $10.3 million seed round this week led by tech-focused growth equity fund Fortissimo Capital. Active in multiple areas of research, including plant breeding, seed production and processing, the company aims to develop new hybrids with novel quality, taste, flavor, uniformity, shelf life, and nutrition profiles. Origene Seeds’ varieties are suitable for a range of applications, including greenhouse growers and commercial endeavors. As part of the raise, which the company intends to use for growth acceleration, Fortissimo will acquire half of Origene’s shares, currently owned by Origene cofounder Dov Godinger, making the firm equal partner alongside Origene’s other co-founder, Eyal Vardi.
Indian food e-commerce was back on the menu this week as home meal kit delivery company iChef.in closed an undisclosed seed round with Springboard Ventures, an investment arm of media house Times Group’s holding company Bennett, Coleman & Co. Founded in 2014, the company brings ready-to-cook gourmet meals with pre-portioned fresh ingredients straight to consumers’ doorsteps. Currently operating in Mumbai, the company plans to launch a web and app-based service in another 10 cities during the next 1.5 to 2 years.
Food e-commerce company Frsh.com also snapped up $1 million in funding from Mumbai angels including existing investor Kae Capital and Roposo co-founder Mayank Bhangdia. Founded in 2014, Frsh.com set its sights on the healthy eating segment, providing 20 different prepared items like sandwiches, salads, and beverages at its three regional kitchens. The recent funding follows Frsh.com’s $518,000 seed round back in February from Kae Capital and early-stage investment firm India Quotient.
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In M&A, Syngenta has sold its crossbred grain triticale business to Northern Seed, a Montana seed business owned by private equity firm Lariat Partners. Triticale produces a hybrid of wheat and rye — aimed at maintaining the grain quality of wheat and the disease and environmental tolerance of rye — and is being sold including its Vernon, Texas headquarters The acquisition complements Northern Seed’s existing portfolio of wheat, grasses, peas/legumes, and barley.
In other news from Syngenta this week, CEO Mike Mack stepped down in the wake of shareholder criticism over his refusal to engage in the $47 billion takeover proposal by Monsanto. In a statement Mack said, “I believe that this is an appropriate time for the company to benefit from the perspectives of a new leader.” Syngenta shareholders welcomed the step-down as part of their call for a full strategic review. Chief financial officer John Ramsay will serve as Syngenta’s interim CEO.
The beer brewing industry made history this week, with Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller agreeing to one of the largest corporate mergers in history following a month-long courtship. SABMiller accepted an offer exceeding $100 billion. The marriage will combine Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Corona brands with SABMiller’s Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Grolsch brands. The new partners will now brew nearly one-third of the world’s beer. If it closes, the deal will go down in history as the fourth-largest takeover in history and the biggest deal for a UK company, according to Reuters.
Rembrandt Foods, the nation’s third-largest egg producer, is moving toward raising its birds in a cage-free environment. The Spirit Lake company did not specify how long the transition will take, but aims to make cage-free egg production the company’s standard. According to United Egg Producers, as of March 2015 roughly 3.2 percent, or 9.6 million of US hens live in cage-free environments. Rembrandt’s transition may be motivated in part by the growing number of food producers who are switching to cage-free egg products, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks.
301 INC, the new business development, and venturing unit within General Mills, has set a new strategy focused on building partnerships with emerging food brands to create innovative products in the food space. Through 301 INC, entrepreneurs, and early stage food companies will have access to capital and the deep knowledge and expertise of General Mills to develop, grow, and expand their businesses. Originally cast as a new business development team by General Mills in 2012, the division was tasked with developing and launching new business models to generate growth for the food titan. One of 301 INC’s biggest projects to date is nibblr, a customizable subscription-based snack delivery service.
Things are heating up down in Australia, and local farmers are not happy about it. A bout of hot, dry weather in the country over the next three months is expected to exacerbate an anticipated downturn in agricultural output, with wheat and milk production feeling most of the heat. According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, most of Australia’s eastern coast will set new records in below-average rainfall amounts through the end of the year. The timing could not be worse for some growers, as heat and drought-sensitive crops are reaching a critical growing time.
Meanwhile, the meat industry is reacting to the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s report suggesting a link between the consumption of red meat and processed meats and increased risk of cancer. The report states that 50 grams—less than two slices of bacon—consumed each day increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Cattle futures markets were noticeably lower the same day the report was released, although livestock experts assert the report was based on limited evidence. In an interview with AgWeb, President of Paragon Economics Steve Meyer said, “I can’t imagine [the IARC] report will provide a long-term shock to the markets.”
The Hill continues to take on big issues relating to food and ag, with the House Committee on Agriculture tackling the topic of big data’s growing role in agriculture yesterday morning (10/28). In advance of the hearing, Ag Committee Chairman K Michael Conaway issued a statement saying: “Big data has arrived, and it’s here to stay.” The hearing is intended to provide stakeholders a chance to explain what big data means to their businesses and farms and how it’s modifying the agriculture marketplace. Witnesses include Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, The Climate Corporation’s President and COO Michael K. Stern, and Oklahoma State University Ag Law aficionado Dr. Shannon Ferrell, among others.
Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee held the first biotechnology hearing in 10 years. With the White House calling for a review of the Coordinated Framework—a multi-agency approach to regulating biotechnology in food production—many stakeholders were paying close attention to the politicians’ remarks. Ranking Member of the committee Senator Debbie Stabenow expressed her support for the use of biotech in agriculture: “Biotechnology is proven to be safe, beneficial, and I believe, will play a major role in helping to solve these dual global challenges of climate change and global food security.” The Senator also acknowledged American consumers’ desires to know more about the food they eat and pointed to the recent Farm Bill’s investment in organics and local food systems. The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which would impose a federal voluntary labeling scheme for GMO foods, awaits the Senate’s vote.