By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology
Making the best use of farmland in between growing seasons is one way to step up to the challenge when facing a global food crisis. CoverCress, a St. Louis-based AgTech startup, has farmers covered with a new cover crop that’s converted from a particular weed called field pennycress.
When CoverCress grain is crushed, the oil produced is a lower carbon intensity feedstock for multiple uses, such as high-protein animal feed, renewable diesel fuel and sustainable aviation fuel.
“CoverCress really, truly is a climate-smart seed technology,” said Mike DeCamp, President & CEO of CoverCress. “We’ve taken what was a winter weed. We’ve modified it through breeding and gene editing to improve yield, improve maturity, to change the oil content and change the oil quality to create a new rotational crop that fits within the Midwest. We grow in the wintertime. We grow on otherwise fallow land. And because of that, we get this very low carbon intensity score. And when our grain is ultimately crushed and that oil is extracted, it’s a tremendous feedstock for producing renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel.”
CoverCress recently made progress with field research plots.
“About 10,000 acres of CoverCress across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana,” DeCamp said.
The CoverCress crop has gone from the bench to the field, and the startup company’s success led to a big announcement in 2022.
“One of our longtime investors Monsanto, now Bayar, acquired 65% of the company. So, they bought out all of our venture capital investors and we remain partners today with Bunge and Chevron,” he explained. “We sit in this pretty cool spot. We are connected with three of the largest players in their respective industries.”
“Bayar representing the upstream farmer-facing component. Bunge representing midstream, where crush comes in as an oil seed. And then Chevron downstream as a renewable fuel producer. So, it’s a unique situation, I think, for a startup like CoverCress.”
CoverCress earned the privilege of being centerstage at the 2022 Trilateral Agri-food Innovation Symposium in St. Louis at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. The symposium discussed a range of solutions for food security and climate-smart agriculture among global innovation leaders from Israel, United Arab Emirates and St. Louis. St. Louis nonprofit BioSTL hosted the event because St. Louis is a hub for AgTech innovation.
The success CoverCress experienced, after launching from BioGenerator – the investment arm of BioSTL – is one of the reasons why DeCamp was asked to give a presentation at the symposium.
“We are an example of how bringing science and capital together in an ecosystem can really create something very powerful,” said DeCamp. “And I think that’s part of what this symposium is intended to show, is how an ecosystem – whether it’s local, like what we have here in St. Louis or more global, like what is coming together with this symposium – can really drive innovation and get focused on important problems and what are the solutions to those important problems.”