Hi Fidelity Genetics (HFG), which combines sensors, data and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve plant breeding, today announced that it has raised an $8.5 million Series A led by Fall Line Capital and Finistere Ventures. This brings the total amount raised by HFG to $11.5 million.

There are two parts to the HFG system. First, the company inserts proprietary capacitance sensors into the ground that are used to make a 3D statistical model of the roots of individual plants throughout their entire growth cycle. (A heartier, deeper root structure means a healthier plant.) HFG then combines that underground data with other, above ground data such as crop lineage weather, pests, etc. HFG runs all this information through its AI platform, and is able to predict which plants should be cross-bred to create new hybrids that will be more robust and have greater yields in that farm’s particular setting.

Traditionally, finding the right plants to cross-breed is a manual process that is reactionary, happening after plants have survived drought conditions or some form of pest. Additionally, most breeding processes rely on trial and error. Spencer Maughan, Co-Founder Hi-Fidelity Genetics and Partner at Finestere Ventures, told me by phone that Hi Fidelity’s massive data-intensive approach allows for a new type of automated, predictive, cross-breeding selection process. “We can predict hybrid outcomes,” he said. HFG doesn’t do the actual cross-breeding of plants, rather it just indicates which plants should be cross-bred. The actual hybridization is farmed out, as it were.

Right now, HFG’s technology works with corn. The company has been conducting tests for the past three years and will go into its first trial in North America in 2019. Its primary business will be selling hybrid corn seed bred for particular situations such as specific region’s soil makeup or drought conditions. HFG currently offers four varietals of organic and non-organic seeds but will eventually get its catalog up to around 40 hybrid seeds. Maughan also said that the company will explore monetizing its AI platform as some kind of SaaS offering for other breeding organizations.

Data is playing an increasingly important role across agriculture as sensor companies like Arable and Teralytic provide new insights into the soil conditions for farmers so they can improve how they grow crops. Hi Fidelity is now looking to use data to change the what type of crop is grown.

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