German agbiotech giant Bayer and Singapore’s sovereign fund Temasek have launched a company to develop and sell new vegetable seed varieties tailored to vertical farms. The startup, called Unfold and unveiled in August, will license rights to seed germplasm from Bayer’s vegetable portfolio, especially varieties of crops such as lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, pepper and cucumbers, which are particularly well suited to indoor growing environments. The company is building an R&D facility in Davis, California to carry out the work. “Unfold will combine leading seed genetics with the best agtech experts in order to dramatically advance productivity, flavour and other consumer preferences,” said Unfold CEO John Purcell in a statement. The company seeks to leverage its intellectual property in seeds and digital solutions to galvanize the potential of vertical farming to connect with the retail industry and directly with consumers.
Vertical farms can function with artificial light, in reduced spaces or disused buildings, and overall consume less water. This makes them particularly well suited to urban settings or harsh climates, and a reduced environmental footprint aligns them with the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations for 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic has also raised awareness of how disruptions in logistics and transportation can rapidly endanger food security. These are challenges that vertical farms, with their fresh local produce and shortened supply chain could help overcome. Unfold is a collaboration between Leaps by Bayer (Bayer AG’s investment arm) and Temasek, a global investment company, and raised $30 million in an initial funding round. The market size for vertical farming was $2.1 billion in 2018 and is forecasted to reach $12 billion by 2026, according to a report by Fortune Business Insights. Bayer is the company that in 2018 acquired GMO crop producer Monsanto, but the new entity will not develop genetically modified seed varieties but instead pursue other breeding techniques, such as gene editing.
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Ag giant enters vertical farming. Nat Biotechnol 38, 1114 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-020-0708-8