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Leaps by Bayer leads $45m round for Sound Agriculture

The start-up is working on ways to economically deliver plant trait development and has a product in market that aims to increase yields while lowering fertilizer use.

Leaps by Bayer has led a $45 million funding round for agtech start-up Sound Agriculture to accelerate the company’s growth.

California-headquartered Sound Agriculture is working on two areas of plant biology. The first is called On-Demand Breeding, which is a platform that can deliver plant trait development “ten-times faster than current technologies,” according to the company. The second is soil treatment product which the company believes can eventually reduce “30 percent of global nitrogen fertilizer use.”

Sound Agriculture also received support from new investor Northpond Ventures, as well as existing backers S2G Ventures, Syngenta Group Ventures, Cavallo Ventures and Fall Line Capital.

“We are focused on progressing breakthrough solutions that are grounded in biotech science to provide long-term answers to today’s food production challenges,” head of Leaps by Bayer Jürgen Eckhardt said in a statement. “Sound Agriculture is a true pioneer in the industry, bringing not one, but two never-before-seen platform technologies to market that have tremendous potential to innovate and advance sustainability in our food system.”

Sound Agriculture’s SOURCE product is the company’s first and is an alternative to synthetic fertilizers for corn and soybeans, with trials ongoing on further crops.

The product works by activating existing soil microbiome, which is the ecosystem of microorganisms associated with plants and soil, to give plants access to more nitrogen and phosphorus. SOURCE can increase corn yields by an average of 7.5 bushels per acre, according to Sound Agriculture, and can reduce nitrogen fertilizer use by up to 50 pounds per acre.

The agtech start-up’s On-Demand Breeding platform uses epigenetics, the study of how behavior and environment can affect the way genes work, to promote natural plant differentiation to achieve desired outcomes. This can include changes in the taste, appearance and nutritional make-up of plants.

Chief executive of Sound Agriculture Adam Litle said in a statement: “Given the speed of climate change, it’s critical to find reliable solutions like ours that have the ability to scale quickly.”

Leaps by Bayer partnered with Temasek 12 months ago to launch Unfold Bio, a new JV that will target the discovery of new seed varieties best suited to growth in a vertical farming setting.