Alphabet, Louis Dreyfus Back Custom Soybeans in $150 Million Bet

Private investors are betting more consumers want their soybeans custom-designed and packed with protein and flavor.

Benson Hill Inc., which produces custom crop seeds, raised $150 million in a new funding round led by Wheatsheaf Group and GV -- Alphabet Inc.’s venture-investing arm -- alongside other backers including Louis Dreyfus Co., the agricultural trader controlled by billionaire Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, and Canadian pension-fund manager Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec.

“We’re scaling up, launching multiple products this year and next year, so it was an appropriate time to go out and raise an additional set of capital,” Benson Hill Chief Executive Officer Matt Crisp said in a phone interview.

The St. Louis-based company plans to use part of the proceeds for a commercial launch of its so-called ultra-high protein soybean varieties, Benson Hill said Thursday in a statement. Protein-packed soybeans and yellow peas, another priority crop for the firm, are common components of popular plant-based meat substitutes, according to Crisp.

Genetically modified seeds have been challenged in recent years by shifts to organically produced food. They’ve also been criticized for promoting growth of only a handful of crops -- like corn, soybeans and wheat -- which can strip farm fields of nutrients in favor of higher yields.

While Benson Hill’s designer seeds produce many of the same grains and vegetables, they can offer farmers greater diversity within a species like soybeans, tomatoes or peppers to improve both farm health and food health, the company said.

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