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Scientists and startups roll out new crop strains to fight food waste and weird weather

  • Scientists and startups are developing new crop strains to help farmers deal with wild weather, food waste, and other challenges

  • A new Luna avocado developed at the University of California, Riverside, joins a host of new crops coming to market

  • For instance, FootPrint Coalition portfolio company Sound Agriculture is selling a longer lasting tomato that tastes like an heirloom

  • It's part of a wave of new crops bred to be more resilient to stresses or more productive, without relying on chemical fertilizer or pesticides

New strains of fruits like tomatoes and avocados are coming to market as scientists try to make fruits more efficient and hardier in the face of weird weather and make them less dependent on chemical fertilizers.

Earlier this month researchers at the University of California, Riverside, announced the launch of a new strain of avocado called Luna. Meanwhile, in March, the FootPrint Coalition-backed business Sound Agriculture unveiled a new breed of tomato -- the Summer Sweet.

For both the UC Riverside and Sound Ag, the goal was to create strains of the fruit that could benefit farmers and consumers.

In the case of the new Luna avocado, the fruit trees are smaller -- which means farmers can plant them more densely for safer harvesting and pruning. The new avocado's flower also can pollinate other avocado varieties to improve pollination rates in mixed-use fields.

Meanwhile, Sound Ag's Summer Swell tomato can last longer on store shelves and has the same flavor profile as an heirloom tomato -- meaning better tasting tomatoes that last longer for consumers.

Both food innovations rely on epigenetics. It's just that while the University of California research took decades among generations of researchers, Sound Ag was able to identify traits and get a new tomato harvested in two years thanks to artificial intelligence to accelerate the breeding process.

“It's extremely exciting for consumers,” Travis Bayer, the chief technology officer of Sound Agriculture told Forbes in a March interview. “Because it will mark the beginning of an era of more differentiated produce, more stable produce and tastier produce, all coming to the market faster.”

The avocados and tomatoes from these two innovators join a clutch of other feed, food, and industrial crops that are making their way to market.

In Canada, the startup Performance Plants is researching ways to make soy and canola more drought tolerant after 2021 saw crop yields across the nation decline by 21%.

And in Waterloo, Ontario the startup Alora is hard at work developing a salt-tolerant strain of rice that can grow in ocean water.

"ALORAs innovative approach to cultivating salt-tolerant crops is a game-changing trifecta that addresses the key issues related to climate change and the production of food, namely the release of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere (specifically methane), food security and land usage, as well as water conservation," said Lisa Coca, Climate Fund partner at Toyota Ventures (which invested in the company). "This three-pronged approach is absolutely critical in evolving towards a sustainable future of food, and we look forward to supporting the Alora team in their journey."

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