FBN moves into canola breeding, buying Haplotech and Cibus' Canadian canola assets

Farmers Business Network (FBN) has acquired Haplotech and Cibus’ Canadian canola breeding program — a pair of moves that show the online crop input retailer and farm data aggregator intends to shake up the canola breeding and seed market in Western Canada and the northern U.S.

“We have entered the seed business in the U.S. and we’ve been looking at Haplotech and Cibus for a while now here in Canada. Seed makes up a significant portion of the ag inputs business and our goal is to improve choice, increase competition, and improve farmers’ ROI,” says Breen Neeser, FBN Canadian country head, in a statement to RealAgriculture.

Neeser, continues, “We feel this is another example of keeping ‘Farmers First’, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are thrilled with these two strategic acquisitions. We’ll enter the seed market as fast as is practical.”

“For too long canola farmers have been subject to industry consolidation and high seed prices,” adds Haplotech founder and president Rale Gjuric. “We’re excited to join FBN Canada and provide a path to commercialize canola seed and bring Canadian farmers true market competition for their business.”

The pieces of the puzzle

  • Based in Manitoba, Haplotech provides technical and consulting services in the area of plant breeding. Gjuric has global connections and the ability to work with breeders around the world in several crop types. The company currently employs just over a dozen people at the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals at Winnipeg — they will become FBN employees. Haplotech also has a research farm near LaSalle, Man., and facilities in Chile.
  • Cibus is a California-based company that owns a patented gene editing process, similar to CRISPR, which has enabled it to breed different traits into canola and other crop species, without having these crops fall under the regulations that apply to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Cibus already has a network of field staff in Canada focused on commercializing the company’s sulfonylurea (SU)-tolerant canola varieties.

The deal with Cibus includes the San Diego-based company’s Canadian canola germplasm pipeline, and a license to sell canola with Cibus’ pod shatter reduction trait.

“By focusing on bringing agronomic, disease tolerance and herbicide tolerant traits to market, we believe Cibus will be better positioned to rapidly deliver new sustainable solutions to canola growers,” notes Norm Sissons, vice-president of seeds and traits with Cibus. “In addition to providing FBN a license to sell our canola Pod Shatter Reduction trait when it is commercialized, other seed developers will also have access to Cibus traits, meaning growers can get the traits in their preferred brand.”

Financial terms of the acquisitions have not been announced. FBN raised US$250 million from investors in a series F round of funding in August of this year.

Why this matters

  • Look for FBN to try to carve out a space in the canola seed market and to bring forward new canola genetics in the coming years.
  • Rale Gjuric of Haplotech will have a major task in front of him to build a leading canola program but now has significant funding and distribution behind him.
  • Some might say current canola genetics providers have been slow to “play ball” with online retailer FBN. Through this deal, FBN is showing it doesn’t want to have to rely on traditional channel partners to execute its commercialization strategy for seed.
  • Although Cibus’ breeding program comes with a trait license of the Cibus pod shatter trait, FBN has had trouble acquiring leading herbicide tolerant traits from the major developers.
  • Earlier this month, the USDA confirmed 11 new traits in canola developed by Cibus with its patented gene editing process that does not fall under GMO regulations. The company says these traits include a pod shatter resistance trait, eight disease resistance traits, one herbicide tolerance trait, and a high oleic acid trait in canola that provides a healthier oil in the nutraceutical market, and is a more stable frying oil.
  • Other seed developers will still have access to traits developed by Cibus via licensing agreements.

FBN recently waived its membership fee in an effort to boost membership numbers in the U.S. and Canada. Stay tuned for more analysis of this deal and further changes in the seed and trait industry.

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