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An Emergent Worldwide Hub For Plant Science — Benson Hill Doubles Down On St. Louis With New HQ

Matt Crisp is the co-founder, president and CEO of Benson Hill.
Benson Hill
Matt Crisp is the co-founder, president and CEO of Benson Hill.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was on hand for the ribbon-cutting Monday at Benson Hill’s new headquarters in Creve Coeur. The facility is at 39 North, a 600-acre innovation district that also houses the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Bayer Crop Science.

Considered a rising star in the ag-tech space, Benson Hill was established in 2012 and has garnered about $133 million in funding, including from the investor arm of Google, GV. It has roots in St. Louis and North Carolina but with its new building has now consolidated its workforce in St. Louis and closed the North Carolina operation.

Benson Hill calls itself a “crop improvement” company.

“We develop crops that are better, and what we mean when we say ‘better’ is that they are more nutritious, more sustainable, and they taste better,” co-founder and CEO Matt Crisp said Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air.

“[Society] over time [has been] very commodity focused, and we’ve bred for things like yield and moving fruits and vegetables long distances. And we’ve left behind some really important things that actually are there, but have been bred away … like nutrition density and oftentimes flavor and taste,” Crisp added. “And we think by using technology and the convergence of capabilities we can reincorporate a lot of what we’ve lost.”

Soybeans are a particular focus. Benson Hill has commercialized an ultra-high protein soybean that reduces production costs and the amount of water needed to grow it.

Grant Pothast, a farmer in northwest Iowa who has 1,600 acres of Benson Hill soybeans, is so passionate about the company’s work that he’s also become an investor.

“What really caught my eye and grabbed my attention is that they were focused on bringing healthier food to feed the world, specifically they were using innovation and new technology,” he said. “I have a daughter who’s in the medical profession, and they have the CRISPR technology, which gives them the ability to edit the genome of the plant to change color, change taste and do things like that that could actually do wonders for our food chain.”

Crisp said Benson Hill decided to consolidate its operations in St. Louis for three reasons: infrastructure, talented workers and capital.

“I’d say there’s definitely an emergent hub of activity, and St. Louis is undoubtedly the No. 1 or 2 place in the United States — and for that matter the world — to invest in plant science innovation and to develop startup organizations around this area of investment,” Crisp said. “And, it’s in the heartland. You can draw a line around St. Louis and have access to the grower community that’s oftentimes where this starts. The recipe, I think, gets better and better. It’s definitely a hub.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.