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Ceres, Inc.  (CERE)
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Ceres, Inc.

Business Description


We are an agricultural biotechnology company that develops and markets seeds and traits to produce crops for feed, forages, sugar and other markets. We use a combination of advanced plant breeding, biotechnology and bioinformatics to develop seed products and biotechnology traits to address many of the current limitations and future challenges facing agriculture. These technology platforms, which can increase crop productivity, improve quality, reduce crop inputs and improve cultivation on marginal land, have broad application across multiple end markets, including food, feed, fiber and fuel.

Increased global prosperity is driving increasing agricultural demand. As human societies become wealthier, they typically increase meat and dairy consumption. As a result, demand for forage, feed and hay crops to feed meat and dairy cattle is expected to continue to increase. We believe that growers of forage crops, including vertically integrated businesses such as dairies, will need to seek improved sources of forage as well as utilize more marginal quality cropland, or cropland with limited water availability, to meet their feedstock requirements. To maximize milk and meat production, dairies and livestock producers frequently supplement rations of grasses with other crops and nutritional sources. We believe that a single crop plant with improved forage quality can be a significant supplement to existing livestock feed rations. Using our technology platforms, we are developing forage and feed crops with a better balance of yield, energy and nutrition. In forage sorghum, we are taking advantage of the natural drought tolerance and lower fertilizer requirements of sorghum and combining it with biotech traits for enhanced biomass yield and quality. By utilizing our high biomass or quality traits, such as our high carbohydrate trait, we believe sorghum could potentially surpass silage corn in milk yield per acre, which is a key crop performance metric for dairies. We also believe there is an opportunity to utilize these traits in other forage crops, such as alfalfa and silage corn. Many of these traits have already been developed as part of our historical activities in bioenergy.

Our current commercial seed products have demonstrated a number of favorable attributes for forage feed, including high yields and lower water requirements, as well as competitive production costs relative to corn and certain hay crops. In addition our product development pipeline contains numerous traits and seed products that have demonstrated further yield improvements as well as enhanced energy content and nutrition. Following commercial field evaluations in 2014, we launched our U.S. forage sorghum business in 2015 and initiated multiple distribution arrangements with well-established providers of crop inputs and services, including Helena Chemical Company, Wilbur-Ellis and 3rd Millennium Genetics. Distributors provide us with local market information, agronomy support and access to their customer base.

In addition to our forage sorghum opportunity, in certain crops, including corn, rice and sugar beet, we have out-licensed a portion of our traits and gene technology to existing market participants and continue to pursue opportunities to out-license these technologies, among other go-to-market strategies. We believe that the strength of our technology has been validated by our receipt of multiple competitive grants as well as collaborations with leading companies. We also have significant intellectual property rights to our technology platforms, traits and seed products.

Our objective is to be a leading provider of seeds and traits to a variety of agricultural markets, including livestock feed and forage, sugar and other markets. In our realigned business, we plan to leverage many of the technology advances we achieved historically for bioenergy markets, including traits for increased biomass and improved digestibility. Key elements of our business strategy include:

· Expand forage sorghum’s use into a major feed crop with greater yield and nutritional quality, increased value capture and expanded market potential;
· Make use of the positive regulatory landscape to introduce biotech traits in our branded sorghum seed products, beginning in the U.S.;
· Pursue additional license and royalty-based collaborations with market leaders in multiple geographies to introduce our biotechnology traits to other forage crops and sugarcane;
·
Continue to realign our business operations in Brazil toward sugarcane trait development and commercialization, and work with well-established local partners; and
· Increase the number of plant sciences customers utilizing our Persephone platform and expand into the biomedical fields, where genetic information is analyzed and viewed in a similar manner to plant genomics.

Our Technology Platforms

Our integrated technology platforms are a combination of existing genetic assets, specifically germplasm and traits, and competencies in genomics, biotechnology and bioinformatics. Integration of these platforms allows us to improve our existing genetic assets as well as develop and commercialize new products from them. We have also identified to date numerous genes and their relatives from different species that significantly enhance agriculturally relevant traits.


Germplasm

We believe that we have a highly competitive sorghum germplasm collection. Our belief is based on the diversity and nature of the entries we have and how well they have been evaluated, measured and cataloged. Germplasm comprises collections of parental lines and other genetic resources representing the diversity of a crop, the attributes of which are inherited from generation to generation. Germplasm is a key strategic asset since it forms the basis of plant breeding programs and product development. We have acquired access to valuable germplasm through strategic collaborations with leading institutions, including Texas A&M. When we sell varieties developed during such collaborations, or based on the results of such collaborations, we will typically pay our collaborators royalties on net sales of such varieties.

Traits

We are able to further improve the quality of our future product offerings by adding our proprietary traits to our germplasm collections. The majority of our traits are developed through biotechnology, also known as genetic engineering. Biotechnology allows us to precisely add traits not readily achievable through conventional breeding methods. In most cases, the same trait can be added to multiple crops with similar effect. In some instances, a gene introduced through biotechnology may confer more than one beneficial trait, such as salt tolerance and drought tolerance. Our strategy is to focus on genes that have shown large, step increases in performance, and whose benefits are largely maintained across multiple species. We have historically focused on traits that increase biomass yields and biomass quality versus grain yields, which has been the focus of many agricultural biotechnology companies. As a result, we believe that we have a competitive advantage in developing traits for improved forage crops and sugarcane.

We believe we were one of the first companies to implement the practice of developing biotech traits using two test species, rather than just one, which allows us to more successfully select gene-trait combinations that enhance commercial crops. Our current portfolio includes genes that have been shown to substantially increase sugar levels or biomass growth and height per plant as well as genes that have been shown to increase biomass under normal and reduced levels of nitrogen fertilizer. We have genes that allow plants to use water more efficiently and/or recover from water deficits more readily. We also have genes that have been shown to provide tolerance and enhanced recovery to both acute and prolonged salt stress, as well as withstand toxic levels of aluminum in the soil. In addition, we have genes that have demonstrated enhanced conversion of biomass to fermentable sugars and genes that regulate flower development.

Our biotech traits are at various stages of development in our pipeline. We are currently evaluating their performance in various target crops primarily through replicated, multi-year field evaluations. These evaluations are designed to validate the function of the gene and measure the performance of the biotech trait in a specific crop. To date, our field evaluations have largely confirmed previous results obtained in greenhouse and laboratory settings.

The commercial development of biotech traits in commercial crops is a multi-year process. Following transformation, when the selected gene is inserted in a target crop, the resulting plants are evaluated in the greenhouse for one to two years, and then in the field to confirm results for two to four years. Following field trials, specific gene-trait combinations are typically selected and, if required, submitted for regulatory approval, or deregulation, which has historically been a multi-year process in the United States and other countries. Assuming these averages, we believe that we could introduce our first regulated biotech trait or traits to the market in 2018 at the earliest.

We intend to price our traits based on the added value they create, which can vary by crop and geography. For our biotech traits, we are considering various pricing models, including separate annual trait fees per acre as well as blended seed and trait prices. In row crops, we have licensed and intend to license our traits to existing market participants. These licensing agreements are expected to vary by crop, geography, the nature and economic benefit of the trait, and how well advanced the trait is within our pipeline. Future payments to us may be based on a percentage of sales or other performance metrics or milestones.

Forage Sorghum

Forage sorghum seeds are primarily used for growing feed for livestock, including dairy and beef cattle. The crop can be harvested as hay, made into silage, grazed, or fed as greenchop, a harvest technique that involves cutting and chopping the crop and delivering it directly to animals. Sorghum is a naturally drought tolerant and water efficient crop. Based on reports from USDA, the University of Florida and Texas A&M University, forage sorghum can produce more milk per inch of water than both alfalfa and corn silage. During the growing season, forage sorghum requires a minimum of approximately 23.5 inches of water compared to silage corn and alfalfa, which require a minimum of approximately 29 inches and 62 inches of water, respectively. Our current hybrids, which are conventionally bred and do not yet contain biotech traits, have performed well in numerous commercial and multi-hybrid field trials in the United States and have demonstrated a number of favorable attributes for forage feed, such as high yields and lower water requirements, as well as competitive production costs relative to corn and certain hay crops. For example, in two university-led evaluations, which included products from well-known seed companies, we achieved the highest milk production yield per acre, which is a key metric for dairy operations. For the 2015 growing season in North America, we are evaluating more than a dozen new hybrids that offer performance advantages such as higher yields and improved nutrition

   

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