Temasek backs US$30m firm for vertical farming innovation to boost Singapore's food supply

Temasek is partnering with a unit of Bayer to form a US$30 million company to develop breakthroughs in vertical farming. PHOTO: BAYER STOCK PHOTOS

SINGAPORE - A new US$30 million (S$41.2 million) company has been formed to develop breakthroughs in vertical farming, a move that will help to further reinforce Singapore's food supply.

Called Unfold, it is a tie-up between Singapore state investment firm Temasek and a unit of German pharmaceutical and life sciences giant Bayer.

The Straits Times understands that they will have an equal share of the company, which is incorporated in the United States.

Its primary focus is on improving the quality and variety of food as well as boosting the efficiency of its production, including that of popular vegetables such as lettuce and spinach.

In doing so, it will ensure the safe and reliable supply of food, something that is vital for countries with little arable land and in times of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, said Bayer on Wednesday (Aug 12),when announcing the union between its investment unit Leaps by Bayer and Temasek.

Temasek's head of agribusiness, Mr John Vaske, noted that food security is a priority for Singapore, pointing to the country's "30 by 30" goal, which is to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.

He also told The Straits Times that Singapore has been formative in developing vertical farming. "So, we have insights and knowledge of the industry that Unfold can benefit from through the set-up of its commercial, research and development operations here."

These operations will also be established in California, where Unfold will be headquartered in the city of Davis.

The focus on the genetic potential of vertical farming also sets the company apart from most vertical farming start-ups, which invariably concentrate on developing more efficient infrastructures, Bayer said.

The aim of the venture is to improve the quality and variety of food as well as boost efficiency of its production. PHOTO: BAYER STOCK PHOTOS

Unfold has already entered into an agreement for specified rights to germplasm, or seed genetics, from Bayer's vegetable portfolio, a move that will enable it to develop new varieties of seeds.

It also plans to come up with agronomic advice that is tailored for growing crops in the unique indoor environment of vertical farms.

These farms, also known as indoor farms, leverage on artificial light to grow crops, are less dependent on man-made chemicals and optimise the use of water.

The company's chief executive officer is Dr John Purcell, who was previously Bayer Crop Science's head of vegetable seeds research and development, said Bayer in its statement.

Dr Purcell said that Unfold's investment in germplasm and crop growth models is timely as the two fields are "largely underserved".

"Some technology companies do not have access to germplasm resources. The power of Unfold is that we will combine the expertise and 100 per cent focus on the genetics for vertical farming, with access to the best in class germplasm of the Bayer vegetable seed business," he added.

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