The Future of Venture Capital at Bayer-Monsanto: It’s Complicated

It’s official. The Bayer-Monsanto merger will finally close on Thursday. The new entity will keep the name Bayer and cast off the name Monsanto.

Though the physical closure of the more than $60 billion transaction will take place on Thursday, June 6, US regulators require the two companies to continue to function as separate entities until Bayer’s seed division, along with a few other portfolios, can be sold to BASF, as announced in April. Thanks to European regulators, this transaction likely won’t close for another two months, Liam Condon, CEO of Bayer CropScience, told reporters on a call Monday. 

Until the divestments to BASF go through, Bayer is not legally allowed to gain access to Monsanto’s “confidential data,” as Condon described. Though Bayer will own Monsanto, it can’t look too deep under the hood just yet.

What we know so far about the post-merger reality (and it’s not much) suggests that casting off Monsanto’s name may be more of a gesture than a literal representation of the new reality. Bayer announced a handful of top executives at the integrated Bayer three weeks ago, but on the media conference call, Condon said that further details are likely to be delayed a few more months.

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Bayer is Not Shying Away from Monsanto’s Controversies with Post-Merger Exec Team

Bayer has started making practical moves towards combining its business with Monsanto’s ahead of the completed merger, which it expects will close by the end of the quarter.

Last week the German company announced the executive leadership team of the new combined crop science team with five out of the 10 positions announced coming from Monsanto.

With this merger, Bayer is taking on some of the most controversial issues in agriculture and absorbing a company that has battled an overwhelmingly negative reputation, ranking in the bottom five of the Harris Poll’s Corporate Reputation Quotient since 2014 along with Haliburton, Wells Fargo, and 2018 new addition, The Weinstein Company.

From the safety of GMO foods to the ubiquity and safety of the company’s flagship herbicide glyphosate — which is again in the news even today — to the newest tangle of lawsuits regarding anther controversial herbicide Dicamba, Bayer is wading into some very hot water.

And though some see the merger as tarnishing Bayer by association, including Bayer employees reportedly, others see it as an opportunity for Monsanto to step away from a name mired in controversy and start afresh.

However, the list of executives moving from Monsanto to Bayer reveals which Monsanto voices Bayer has decided to hold on to and suggests a complete overhaul is not in the cards. 

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Bayer Gauging Expectations from Environmental Groups Ahead of Monsanto Merger

As Bayer waits for the final go-ahead from regulators to merge with Monsanto, the company is coming to terms with what its role could be as the largest agriculture business in the world.

“The reality is Bayer is going to come together with Monsanto and this is going to be the biggest company in the agricultural space. With that, it’s going to have an awful lot of responsibility,” said Liam Condon, CEO of Bayer CropScience at a roundtable Bayer recently convened in Washington, DC. The discussion was designed to bring together all manner of non-industry stakeholders including environmental groups, nonprofit organizations, academics and a local corn, soy and wheat farmer.

Condon said the conversation was about gauging “expectations” for the new company, signaling that Bayer is aware of the controversy it is taking on with this deal. 

In case there were any illusions that public perception of Monsanto had warmed, the St. Louis company made USA Today’s list of the “America’s Top 20 most-hated companies” this past February – which was compiled using data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, employee testimonials on Glassdoor, and USA Today internal data.

Though the table was stocked with probable opponents of Bayer and Monsanto such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the conversation focused around what Bayer can do to build trust with the various stakeholders and consumers more broadly.

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After A Wave of Agtech Acqui-hires, DTN-Spensa Deal Changes the Script

On April 2, DTN, a Minnesota-based digital insights company spanning multiple industries including agriculture and oil and gas, closed the acquisition of pest detection technology startup Spensa Technologies for an undisclosed sum.

DTN is a 34-year-old privately held company offering digital ag products that range from weather forecasting and nitrogen modeling to market data for livestock producers and more. The company has been making moves to broaden its agricultural offering of late. In addition to the acquisition of Spensa, DTN partnered with Agronomic Technology Corp to offer its Adapt-N and N-Sight nitrogen modeling capabilities  (acquired by Yara in 2017) in February 2018. DTN is also the owner of The Progressive Farmer magazine.

Founded in 2009, Spensa had raised a total of $4.5 million before being acquired, the most recent round of which was a $2.5 million Series A round in 2015 from a group of high net-worth individuals, mTerra Ventures, VilCap Investments, the venture arm of incubator and accelerator group Village Capital, and Elevate Ventures, an Indianapolis-based firm.

Spensa’s core hardware product is the Z-Trap, an insect sensor. The company also offers a software platform, a scouting app, which focuses on precision pest management by collecting manual observations of insects, disease and weeds, providing insights on the likelihood of those pests emerging in the field, economic implications, and optimizing pesticide spray programs.

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Syngenta to Acquire Brazilian Farm Management Software Strider as Competition Heats Up in Latin America

Syngenta plans to acquire Brazilian farm management software platform Strider for an undisclosed sum, pending regulatory review by Brazilian authorities. This will be the second such deal for Syngenta in 2018 following the acquisition of remote sensing startup FarmShots last month. 

Strider had been in discussions with Syngenta Ventures about their next funding round, which would have been a Series B, when CEO Luiz Tangari Pereira said that it became clear that an acquisition would be the best outcome for both parties. 

“If we thought it would be best for the company to be independent, we would have been able to raise a Series B without trouble under a great valuation,” Tangari Pereira told AgFunderNews. “We thought it would be more intelligent for the company to join an ally rather than to stay independent for another two years.”

Strider will maintain its name and “will remain as an independent operating unit supporting Striders’ customers but also helping to build Syngenta’ digital offering in Latin America. Strider already has a suite of products that will complement Syngenta,” said Dan Burdett,  global head of digital agriculture at Syngenta.

To date, Strider has raised $4 million in two funding rounds – a $1 million seed round from Brazilian VC Barn Investments and a $3 million Series A round from Qualcomm  Ventures and Brazilian VC Monashees.


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What Happened in Plant-Based Protein in 2017?

The plant-based protein startups using technology to create and mass produce their products have traditionally received support from a small, but dedicated group of investors, which is increasingly being joined by major food and agriculture players as this trend solidifies.

“We’ve been flooded with deals and opportunities because so many different companies are looking for the type of capital we offer,” said Lisa Feria, the CEO of one such investment firm, Stray Dog Capital to AgFunderNews in September.

But the trend toward plant sources of protein isn’t investor created. According to a Nielsen study released in August, 23% of North American consumers want to see more plant-based protein options in stores. The study indicates that consumers are interested in more plant-based protein options outside of a vegetarian or vegan label since those two categories remain at 6% and 3% of North American consumers respectively. 

So is this growing consumer preference being met with funding of new startups with the potential to add variety to grocery shelves? Here are the most prominent events in the plant-based proteins from 2017.

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Fertilizer Giant Yara International Acquires Adapt-N Nitrogen Modeling Tech

Multinational chemical company Yara International has acquired Agronomic Technology Corp (ATC), an agricultural field modeling company for soil, water, crops, and fertilizer, for an undisclosed sum.

ATC is the maker of Adapt-N, a software tool for agronomists that combines data around soil types and weather with crop modeling and field management to provide farmers with detailed fertilizer prescriptions, to avoid overuse and wastage.

Its Adapt-N and N-Insight products provide nitrogen management solutions in partnership with agricultural retailers, agricultural technology companies, and farmers. 

Yara is a Norwegian chemical producer dealing in fertilizers, animal nutrition, and other industrial chemicals along with relevant safety and control services around their use, but its largest product is nitrogen fertilizer. The firm is listed on the Oslo stock exchange and reported kr95.2 billion ($11.7 billion) in revenue for 2016.

Though the parties have decided not to release a price tag on the deal, Yara International senior vice president for digital farming Stefan Fürnsinn told AgFunderNews that the investment was “significant” but ” strategic.”

“It was not in the range of $1 billion to $550 million,  but it was also not $1 million,” he said.

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