Some Investors Stepping Up Due Diligence Regarding “Greenwashing” In Startups

Mimi Billing stated in an article this week at The Financial Times Online that, “Being seen to be green will benefit companies but a lack of scrutiny can encourage corporate greenwashing: bending the truth to appear environmentally friendly.

“One of the most prominent examples of greenwashing is Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scandal in which it rigged ‘clean diesel’ vehicles with devices to cheat emissions tests. VW had to recall 8.5m cars in Europe and the scandal cost it an estimated €31.3bn in fines and settlements.”

The FT item noted that, “Yet greenwashing does exist in smaller companies, according to Hjalmar Stahlberg Nordegren, the founder of Karma, a Swedish start-up that works to reduce food waste. One reason is that the benefit of being seen to be green is big but the risk of being scrutinised is small.”

“Other sectors are receiving more scrutiny, and more investors are trying to hold such start-ups to account,” the FT article said.  “Prominent targets for such scrutiny include e-scooters, an industry that has expanded rapidly thanks to better technology, government subsidies and high demand for what has been seen as eco-friendly transport.”

Ms. Billing added that, “To separate the chaff from the wheat, some impact investors have stepped up their due diligence in start-ups.

“The venture capital arm of Norrsken manages the largest European fund to focus solely on investments in impact start-ups.

“It will invest only after it obtains expert analysis in the areas in which the start-up says it makes a difference.”

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Bayer and BASF Pushing to Keep Dicamba on the Market

Jacob Bunge reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Chemical makers Bayer and BASF are pushing to keep a controversial weedkiller on the market after a federal court in June blocked its use in U.S. soybean and cotton fields.

“The companies are seeking approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency that would allow farmers to continue spraying dicamba, a herbicide that can kill hardy weeds but has been blamed for drifting off fields and damaging millions of acres of neighboring crops. Bayer and BASF are proposing that farmers mix the weedkiller with new chemical agents that company officials said would help dicamba stay where it is sprayed.

“EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency’s scientists are still reviewing the companies’ dicamba-based crop sprays. ‘We intend to have a decision made by the middle of October,’ he said during an Oct. 1 presentation to the Minnesota Farm Bureau.”

The Journal article noted that, “Bayer and BASF developed their dicamba herbicides and related biotech soybean and cotton seeds as a solution for weeds like palmer amaranth and marestail that evolved to resist other widely used herbicides, including Bayer’s Roundup.

“Farmers’ war against hard-to-kill weeds can push up their cost of raising a crop, and lift prices for food makers, livestock producers and consumers. Herbicide-resistant weeds can also threaten parks and natural lands.

Some farmers and homeowners, however, have blamed dicamba for evaporating off fields and traveling onto nearby fields and gardens, shriveling plants and cutting into crop production. State agriculture departments in the 20 largest soybean-producing states have received about 915 complaints of dicamba-related damage so far this year. That figure compares with about 1,560 in 2019 but remains above the 257 complaints lodged in 2016, the first year the dicamba-tolerant seeds were sold, according to state agriculture departments.”

Mr. Bunge added that, “In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the EPA, when approving the companies’ herbicides in 2018, failed to acknowledge the risks of the herbicides. The ruling revoked the agency’s approval of the herbicides’ use on related biotech crops. That approval was already set to expire by year’s end.

“The court’s decision had limited effect on farmers this year because by mid-June many were done spraying dicamba for the season. An EPA spokesman said the agency will factor the ruling into its consideration of any new dicamba approvals, which are needed for farmers to be able to spray crops next year.

“Bayer is asking the agency to consider reapproving its dicamba spray along with an additional chemical agent that the company says can keep the herbicide from moving. The additive, called an adjuvant, prevents the formation of dicamba acid, which can evaporate off of plants and drift on the wind.”

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Trump Administration Invests Up To $100 Million to Increase American Biofuel Sales

A news release this week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that, “U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced today that the [USDA] has invested $22 million out of the up to $100 million in grants available to increase American ethanol and biodiesel sales. These funds were made available through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) to recipients in 14 states. The initial $22 million in HBIIP investments are projected to increase ethanol demand by nearly 150 million gallons annually.

“‘Investments made through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program are helping rural communities build stronger economies and will give consumers more choices when they fill up at the pump,’ Secretary Perdue said. ‘President Trump has expanded ethanol use by unleashing year-round E15, and the result is more demand for American farmers and more affordable fuel for American consumers.'”

The release added that, “Eligible applicants are vehicle fueling facilities, including, but not limited to, local fueling stations/locations, convenience stores, hypermarket fueling stations, fleet facilities, fuel terminal operations, midstream partners and/or distribution facilities. Higher biofuel blends are fuels containing ethanol greater than 10 percent by volume and/or fuels containing biodiesel blends greater than five percent by volume.

“For more information on USDA’s HBIIP Program, visit the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program web page.”

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Conservation Stewardship Program- Rule Change Helps Producers Implement More Conservation Activities

A news release today from the USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) stated that, “[USDA] today released the final rule for its Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The rule makes updates to the popular conservation program as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.

“CSP is offered in all 50 states and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous signups. The program provides many benefits, including increased crop yields, decreased inputs, wildlife habitat improvements, and increased resilience to adverse weather. CSP is for working lands, including cropland, pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forest land, and agricultural land under Indian tribe jurisdiction.

“‘NRCS has prioritized the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, including important changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is designed to help farmers put more robust conservation activities in place,’ said Kevin Norton, acting Chief of [the NRCS].”

Today’s update added that, “The final rule better aligns CSP with NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) through common applications, contracting operations, conservation planning, conservation practices, and related administrative procedures. EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that helps promote agricultural production and environmental quality by providing producers financial and technical assistance to implement structural and management conservation practices on working agricultural lands.”

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Cell-Based Seafood Producer Shiok Meats Received $12.6 million in Funding

Last week, Bloomberg writer David Ramli reported that, “Cell-based seafood producer Shiok Meats of Singapore has received $12.6 million in Series A funding — the latest alternative protein company to raise money as the pandemic pressures global food-supply chains.

“The new round of funding will sustain the startup for at least three years and help finance research, development and its first plant in Singapore, according to Chief Executive Officer and co-Founder Sandhya Sriram. New shareholders include SEEDS Capital — the investment arm of Enterprise Singapore — and several venture capital funds. Temasek Holdings-backed fund Big Idea Ventures, which was a seed investor, didn’t take part in the latest round.

Startups and food giants around the world are racing to invent and improve alternatives to traditional meat production as consumers become more careful about nutrition and the environment. While fake-meat companies like Impossible Foods Inc. and Beyond Meat Inc. are raising the lion’s share of funding as they expand into new markets, other startups are working on lab-grown alternatives for a potential pool of customers that want to eat real meat and seafood that doesn’t come from living animals.”

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SCOTUS Refused to Consider Takings Case Regarding Indiana’s Right to Farm Act

Reuters writer Sebastien Malo reported yesterday that, “”The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to review a lower court ruling challenging the constitutionality of a state law that has been shielding an industrial-scale 8,000-head hog farm from a nuisance lawsuit from neighbors who say the foul smell has ruined their property.

The high court refused to consider the neighbors’ arguments that Indiana’s Right to Farm Act (RTFA) violates the U.S. Constitution’s takings clause in barring nuisance claims from neighbors of farms that transform into industrial-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The plaintiffs alleged that the animals’ ‘noxious emissions‘ had deprived them from making a productive or economic use of their property.”

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Sustainability-Linked Loans Increase to Food and Ag Firms

Laurence Fletcher reported late last month at The Financial Times Online that, “A surge in interest by banks and companies in proving their ethical credentials is driving rapid growth in sustainability-linked loans (SLLs) to food and agriculture firms, but they are not for everyone.

“SLLs — corporate lending whose interest rate can rise or fall depending on whether the borrower hits pre-agreed ethical targets — are one of the hottest areas of environmental, social and governance investing. They are benefiting from the global growth in sustainable investing, with assets worth more than $30tn in 2018, according to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance.

“After surging by 190 per cent to $135.3bn last year, the total amount of lending in 2020 is likely to be smaller, owing to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The FT article noted that, “But it will still be far above the $4.3bn total for 2017, the year in which the sector is widely seen to have started with a loan to Dutch conglomerate Philips.

“Since then SLLs have gained traction in the food and agriculture sector, with lending to the likes of China’s Cofco International, Thai sugar producer Mitr Phol Group, and coffee, sugar and wheat trader Louis Dreyfus.

“But with this type of lending in its infancy, methods of drawing up such loans are still being developed and parts of the process can appear off-putting to new entrants.”

Mr. Fletcher explained that, “Greater complexity, a lack of standardisation and the potential for extra costs can act as a barrier, even though the sector has the potential to help businesses achieve — and be seen to achieve — sustainability goals.”

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Bishop and Guest Lead Call for New Registrations for Dicamba Products

A news release yesterday from Congressman Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) stated that, “[Rep. Bishop], Chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, and Congressman Michael Guest (R., Miss.) led a bipartisan letter encouraging the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler, to issue new registrations for four dicamba products. Because the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling in June of this year vacated prior registrations for Engenia®, Xtendimax®, and FeXapan®, many farmers face an uncertain future about the use of products they rely on to help manage soybean, cotton, and other crops. New registrations of the products would help clarify the use of these critical products as farmers begin making decisions on their management strategies for next year.

“‘The 9th Circuit court ruling to vacate the registration for dicamba products Engenia®, Xtendimax®, and FeXapan® was disruptive to our farming community nationwide as well as in Georgia. Our farm producers are now faced with identifying alternative weed control methods. As the next growing season approaches, the release of a new registration with the most up-to-date, scientifically based data will aid in meeting the demands for our food supply chain,’ said Congressman Sanford Bishop.

“‘I am pleased to join my colleagues in this bipartisan effort. We are working in support of American farmers and trying to bring confidence and clarity to our producers before the upcoming crop year,’ Congressman Michael Guest said. ‘Last year’s court decision put in jeopardy millions of acres of crops across our country, and especially Mississippi. As our farmers continue to battle a pandemic, natural disasters, and fluctuating markets, it is critical they have the tools necessary to a successful growing season.'”

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New Technologies May Make it Easier to Monitor Sustainable Farming

Anna Gross reported late last month at The Financial Times Online that, “In late July, Nordea Asset Management, which controls assets worth $230bn, excluded the Brazilian meat behemoth JBS from its portfolio following a flurry of scandals, ranging from corruption to allegations about deforestation and slavery in its supply chain.

“But decisions like these are rare, not least because impact investors — who want their money to bring about social and environmental benefits — often have limited tools at their disposal to work out whether companies are meeting sustainability commitments. They face multiple hurdles, from inconsistent definitions of what constitutes responsible behaviour to opaque supply chains.

“The sheer geographical reach and complexity of the food and agriculture sector only add to these problems. ‘Good metrics to measure how humans relate to land are hard to come by,’ says Dominic Hofstetter, director of capital and investment at EU environmental agency EIT Climate-KIC. ‘We’re flying blindly in many respects.'”

The FT article noted that, “Visibility, however, is about to improve. A rising tide of new technologies promises to make it easier to monitor which companies are honouring their commitments on responsible land use, emissions reductions and human rights.”

“One ambitious project is the UK’s Spatial Finance Initiative, established last year to explore ways of integrating geospatial data and analysis into financial decision-making. The idea is to use tiny satellites to take high-resolution images of every point on the planet every day, complemented by drone footage, with the resulting data automatically scanned and interpreted by artificial intelligence,” the article said.

Last month’s article added that, “Other organisations are developing tools to improve corporate transparency and reporting around a wide range of metrics relevant to food and agriculture groups, from soil types and biodiversity to greenhouse gas emissions and use of plastics.”

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EPA Facing Time Crunch on Dicamba Decisions

DTN writer Emily Unglesbee reported last week that, “As the fall seed-buying season advances, EPA is facing a major time crunch on its dicamba herbicide decisions.

“The agency had originally vowed to have a re-registration decision for four dicamba herbicides — Tavium (Syngenta), Engenia (BASF), XtendiMax (Bayer) and FeXapan (Corteva) — settled by early fall so farmers could buy their corresponding dicamba-tolerant seed with the certainty of in-season weed control options.

“All four herbicides were set to expire in December 2020, but when a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling vacated all but one of those herbicides, EPA’s timeline was thrown into disarray. (See more here:…)”

The DTN article stated that, “The agency is now in the process of reviewing new products and new registration applications for two of those herbicides — Engenia and Xtendimax — while also still doing its planned re-registration review of Tavium. (FeXapan is the same formulation as XtendiMax, so any future registrations of it depend upon a successful XtendiMax registration, Corteva has informed DTN.)

The situation has caused uncertainty for growers considering dicamba-tolerant seed purchases for use in 2021, prompting one company, Bayer, to offer a new ‘Plant with Confidence’ program to offset that financial risk for farmers.”

Last week’s article added that, “Bayer is marketing its RR2 Xtend soybeans for use in 2021, as well as XtendFlex cotton and soybeans, which tolerate dicamba, glyphosate and glufosinate (Liberty).

“While the company is still waiting on a final import approval from the EU for the XtendFlex soybean trait, it is preparing for a commercial launch of the trait in 2021 of up to 20 million acres, roughly half the current footprint of Xtend soybeans in the U.S.”

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