More dope, rope, soap: an upward slope in camelina, hemp, cannabis, soybeans for food, fuels, feed

June 2, 2020 |

Benson Hill, Yield10 and Marrone Bio are in the news this week with advances in their crop technologies aimed at yield improvement and nutritional composition. Yield continues to be the motherlode when it comes to agricultural innovation, you can see the recent waves of agtech investing more or less as a series of novel strategies for increasing yield beyond the rate of improvement that more straightforward breeding programs can produce at this point. Nutritionals are of growing importance.

Yield10 and advancing camelina

Over in Massachusetts, Yield10 Bioscience says that results from 2019 field tests are in from the United States and Canada, and the data suggest that novel traits can be successfully deployed in the oil biosynthesis pathway using CRISPR genome-editing technology to boost seed oil content in Camelina. Additional results recorded in the field studies suggest that the activity and expression of trait C3004 can boost photosynthetic efficiency in Camelina, an outcome that supports further field work in 2020. Permitting is underway to continue the testing of these traits and for testing of several traits in Camelina and canola in 2020 field tests in the U.S. and Canada, with planting expected to begin in the second quarter.

Yield10 is developing Camelina as a platform crop to evaluate new yield trait leads identified using our GRAIN platform. The Company is also developing Camelina as an oilseed crop for nutritional oils for food and feed applications and future bioproducts such as PHA biomaterials. Boosting seed yield and oil content will make Camelina an increasingly attractive crop for farmers. Yield10 is also continuing to develop C3003 and C3004 as performance seed yield traits in Camelina, canola, and corn, and has formed relationships with major seed companies to test these traits in other commercially important crops.

The company notes that the best genome-edited Camelina plants exhibited good agronomics including germination, stand establishment and seed formation. Edits to certain combinations of the three genes in the oil biosynthesis pathway produced an increase in oil content in individual seeds as well as an increase in seed oil content as a percentage of seed weight, as compared to wild type plants. The best performing Camelina line (E3902) produced an average 11.8 percent increase in oil per individual seed, an 8.7 percent increase in individual seed weight, and a 4.7 percent increase in seed oil content as a percentage of seed weight. No significant change in oil composition was observed.

As for next steps, the best performing line will be field tested again in 2020 at sites in the U.S. and seed bulk-up will be performed to enable the planting of larger trials in 2021.

More on the story here.

Marrone Bio and advancing cannabis, hemp

In California, Marrone Bio Innovations said that its Regalia Maxx biofungicide received a first approval for indoor and outdoor use on cannabis and hemp in Canada. The product is MBI’s flagship biofungicide that improves yield and harvest quality by stimulating the plant’s ability to fight disease.

Cannabis and hemp have been relatively small crops in Canada until lifestyle cannabis was approved in 2018. According to Health Canada, 77,800 acres of hemp were grown in 2018, valued at an estimated $50 million USD. And while 2019 acres are still being compiled, Canada Health has reported a 51% increase in licenses issued to grow hemp across Canada in 2019.

The majority of Canadian cannabis and hemp acres have been certified organic, as growers have been forced to meet strict standards of a highly regulated industry. There have been limited options to control diseases and insects and it is only recently that a few select crop protection products have been approved for use on hemp or cannabis, including Regalia Maxx.

More on the story here.

Benson Hill and advancing soybeans

In Missouri, Benson Hill has contracted 30,000 acres to advance its cutting-edge soybean varieties through partnerships in the consumer food, animal feed and aquaculture markets. Grown across a wide geography within the United States, Benson Hill’s non-GMO soybean product line combines superior nutritional qualities and oil content with highly competitive yields, offering benefits from seed-to-shelf. Benson Hill provides its cutting-edge soybean food and feed-grade seed varieties through its Benson Hill Seeds division.

In addition to the premium meal and oil ingredients these acres will deliver, Benson Hill recently announced the first commercially available soybean varieties that can effectively replace soy protein concentrate via typical soybean crushing. Available in the 2021 crop year, this innovation will enable food companies to eliminate costly energy and water-intensive processing steps across the consumer food, animal feed and aquaculture markets.

More on the story here.

Why these crops, why these targets?

The work we’re seeing this month is mostly under the “novel crop” umbrella. Cannabis and hemp have received almost no formal attention in terms of crop development, owing to regulatory status — so, we’re seeing a wave of breeding and crop protection innovation that will continue to grow so long as crop applications emerge and continue to move hemp and cannabis up the “acreage ladder” — plantings are still small, but products like CBD oil provide new markets. Marrone’s focused on crop protection as opposed to plant genomics.

Camelina has suffered not from outright bans but, for many years, outright indifference, and some of that has to do with the lack of digestibility of camelina meal. There’s been lots of interest in camelina oils, but farmers generally both two active markets to make large-scale plantings of enduring value. Camelina oils have featured prominently over the years as a novel crop for oils to make jet fuel from. But lately, there’s been such a rising interest in nutritional oils that markets and prices for food applications have stimulated interest, and Yield10 has driven itself into the market.

Benson Hill of late has been focusing on big established crops (in this case, soybeans) — yield and composition are the main focus. But we note the availability of a low-intensity soy protein concentrate product — less processing means less water and power costs. One of these days there’s going to be a consumer labeling program to recognize the sustainability advances that companies like Benson Hill are bringing, and that’s going to offer another long-term kicker towards the value of Benson Hill’s discovery platform.

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