‘The big deal here is we are doing it without an agronomic practice change’: Cquesta celebrates US$5 million seed funding

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/ThomasVogel
Image: Getty/ThomasVogel

Related tags gene editing soil health roots

US-based Cquesta is leveraging gene editing to generate carbon credits for farmers, its CEO Michael Ott – who previously founded Rantizo, now the US’s largest dronespraying company – tells AgTechNavigator.

Cquesta announced the successful completion of a US$5 million seed funding round. The funds will be used to further develop and expand the company's groundbreaking approach to carbon sequestration in agriculture, leveraging deep-rooted crops to enhance drought tolerance and generate carbon credits for farmers. The company seeks to sequester gigatons of carbon by working within the existing agricultural system. Cquesta and its partners believe that crop modification will prove to be the most scalable and timely solution available.

The seed funding round was led by Hess Corporation, with participation from other angel investors motivated to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Cquesta specialises in harnessing the power of deep-rooted crops to sequester carbon in the soil, mitigating the impacts of climate change while simultaneously providing farmers with a new revenue stream through the generation of carbon credits. By focusing on nature-based solutions, the company aims to scale broadly, with no change in agronomic practices by farmers while creating a high-quality carbon credit for focused buyers.

"Cquesta is thrilled to announce the successful completion of our seed funding round. This is a challenging fundraising environment and we are happy to bring on such strong partners who believe in our mission and share our values.” said Michael Ott, Cquesta’s CEO. Ott previously founded Rantizo, now the US’s largest dronespraying company.

“This investment will propel our mission to leverage the natural ability of plants to sequester carbon in soil at a global scale,” he said. “We believe Cquesta will revolutionise agriculture by providing farmers with effective tools to combat climate change in addition to generating new economic opportunities."

Cquesta has licensed nine patents from the Salk Institute. The Harnessing Plants Initiative at the Salk brings together global leaders in plant biology and genomics to solve the world’s largest problems. The Salk work on deep roots, more roots and suberin expression is the core of the technological underpinnings of Cquesta.

To bring this to market, Cquesta will rollout a seamless Measurement, Reporting, Verification

(MRV) system to quantify the benefits that deep roots provide to soils. Key features of Cquesta’s technology include:

  1. Deep-Rooted Crops: ​The company utilizes specially edited crops with enhanced root systems to maximize carbon sequestration and improve overall soil health.
  2. Drought Tolerance: ​Cquesta’s approach helps farmers combat the challenges of drought by improving water retention in the soil, reducing the reliance on irrigation, and enhancing crop resilience.
  3. Carbon Credit Generation: ​Cquesta enables farmers to generate carbon credits with NO CHANGE to agronomic practices, contributing to a more sustainable and economically viable farming ecosystem.

Salk President Gerald Joyce said, “The Harnessing Plants Initiative at Salk has had the goal from the outset to bring these deep-root technologies to scale for the purpose of addressing climate change, which now becomes possible through the partnership with Cquesta and the support of these committed seed round investors.”

Gene editing regulation a bottleneck but not super scary

Speaking with AgTechNavigator, Ott elaborated on how the company’s technology works. “Cquesta uses gene editing to optimise crop roots. We can make them bigger/smaller/deeper/shallower/etc,” he explained. “Farmers universally seek deep roots because they lead to better outcomes in times of stress (like a drought) so that's the pathway we are going. In addition to tolerating extremes, we can also generate carbon credits for farmers. The big deal here is we are doing so without an agronomic practice change.”

Results already in on sorghum are encouraging, showing normalized sectors of the plant. “In the first three reps, yield is consistent and strong compared to others. The bulk of the root biomass is pushed lower, which will help with carbon sequestration. Below 30cm, root breakdown is very slow.”

The crops targeted for development are soybean, canola, sorghum, corn and rice. The company plans to scale up in North and South America, he said. “Gene editing is a bottleneck now, but the regulations are getting much better. I've dealt with this before in my career. I founded Rantizo, now the nation's largest dronespraying company. We had a really rough time getting drones permitted by the FAA, but made it work and secured the first permits to swarm. This is work to be done, but not super scary.”

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