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AgLaunch August Newsletter

on September 4 | in Tech Corner | by | with No Comments

Vol. 4, No. 3                                                                   Aug. 2, 2017

 

MEMPHIS & THE MID SOUTH: CHANGING THE FARMER’S ROLE IN AGTECH COMMERCIALIZATION (Published with content partner AgWeb.com)

As you have been reading in farm magazines or heard at conferences over the last couple of years, there is an increasing interest and investment in the development of new agricultural technologies and the creation of new “startup” companies to bring innovations to market. This interest is driven by the need to feed a growing population, changing food consumption patterns, increased pressure on natural resources, and  the dramatic reduction of the cost of technologies such as genomic sequencing and data. There is no doubt there are changes and that farming is being confronted with thousands of new technologies from all sides. READ MORE

MEMPHIS & THE MID SOUTH:  VENTURE CAPITAL FIRM INNOVA, AN AGLAUNCH PARTNER, HAS $31M TO INVEST IN AG-TECH STARTUPS

Innova announced the close of Innova Ag Innovation Fund IV, which will focus on early stage investments in rural America and work with national farm organizations and other partners to identify, enable and accelerate ag-tech companies with high growth potential. As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Rural Business Investment Program, the fund has been certified and licensed to operate as a Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC).A key partner for the fund will be AgLaunch, a venture development organization, accelerator and farmer network organization, which focuses on a farm-centric commercialization model for agricultural innovation. READ MORE

MEMPHIS & THE MID SOUTH: INDIGO AG, WITH MEMPHIS-BASED COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS, NAMED 2017 TECHNOLOGY PIONEER BY THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

The World Economic Forum has announced its selection of the world’s 30 most promising Technology Pioneers of 2017. Companies were selected for their potential to significantly impact business and society through new technologies, as well as to advance the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Indigo was chosen for its proven potential to transform agriculture in a way that supports growers, consumers, and the environment. READ MORE

MEMPHIS & THE MID SOUTH:  MEMPHIS-BASED THE SEAM LAUNCHES NEW BLOG ON AGRICULTURAL BLOCK CHAIN

The Seam has created a well-updated and informative blog with everything you need to know about the agriculture block chain. The Seam is an expert in this subject, as they are “focused on developing services that empower agri-businesses to profitably compete on a global scale”. Check out their blog, which explore aspects of finance, blockchain patent applications, and more. READ MORE

MEMPHIS & THE MID SOUTH: EXPERIMENTS COULD YIELD TRULY ‘LOCAL’ CRAFT BEER

Whether it’s Gotta Get Up to Get Down, Grindhouse or RockBone – there’s no doubt that Memphians love their local craft beers. But despite the plethora of pilsners, pale ales and lagers in the market, Memphis has yet to produce a truly “local” beer, and researchers at Agricenter International are hoping to change that. Because the sometimes oppressive heat and humidity of the Mid-South are not hospitable for barley and hops, two of the main ingredients of beer that traditionally grow in cooler climates like the Pacific Northwest, local brewers have been unable to produce a craft beer exclusively made with locally sourced ingredients. READ MORE

MEMPHIS & THE MID SOUTH: NEW HIGH-TECH IRRIGATION SYSTEM COMES TO THE MID-SOUTH

When Brandon Finch first grew interested in irrigation technology, he was working the 7,000-acre family farm in northeast Arkansas’ Caraway. “The idea came to Ryan Heringer, a longtime friend, who owns an automation sales and installation company in Jonesboro. Ryan was demonstrating I-phone control features on a system just installed at a local farmer’s house when the farmer suddenly said: ‘Man, if you could monitor and control my irrigation system like that, I would be in.’” The penny dropped and “Ryan called his technology buddy Bob Farinelli, who retired from a well-known automation company equipment manufacturer. Bob has 26 patents and is an engineer who wants to solve big problems, and this is a big problem. The three of us chatted, and Smart Farm Systems was born.” READ MORE

MEMPHIS & THE MID SOUTH: MEET AGLAUNCH PARTNER KNOXVILLE ENTREPRENEUR CENTER’S STARTUPS

Not all high-tech entrepreneurs are urban. Five agriculture-related startups from East Tennessee will join in a 12-week business accelerator program this summer, beginning with a July 18 kickoff party at Sizzle TechStart, 487 Sam Rayburn Parkway in Lenoir City. The 6 p.m. party will include dinner, refreshments, and “a brief introduction of the program and teams,” according to a news release. The entrepreneur center is co-hosting the party with AgLaunch, an initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture which seeks to boost 100 new farm-oriented startups by 2022. READ MORE

NOTEWORTHY: PATIENCE NEEDED: LESSONS FOR GETTING NEW TECH ONTO THE FARM

A popular joke within the tech industry was trotted out at GAI AgTech Week in Boston, MA, speaking volumes about the continuing – but hopefully narrowing – divide between agriculture and the technologists who hope to transform it. Here’s how the joke goes: If it takes nine months for a woman to have a baby, put nine women in a room for a month and it’s bound to go much faster. Such is the hope of tech companies, which have a bias for fast turnarounds on product iterations and speedy adoption by buyers – ideally before their seed money runs out. But most of agriculture has an annual growing season, giving farmers their fabled “40 chances” at making a crop over a typical 40-year career. Most of them understandably are not about to risk the entirety of one of those precious and expensive seasons on a speculative technology. READ MORE

NOTEWORTHY: SENSOR SKEPTICISM AT FORBES AGTECH SUMMIT

The Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, CA draws a varied mix of ag industry stakeholders whose differing viewpoints often call attention to the sometimes wide distance between the startups who make agtech products, and the farmers meant to buy and use them. It was a notable phenomenon at this year’s conference, therefore, when the producers, the sellers, and the end users of technology all seemed to be on the same page about a technology that isn’t all that new. Field moisture sensors have been on the market for decades, but their efficacy to date is still questionable. At the Forbes Summit, three industry stakeholders participated on a panel that was slated to focus on California’s drought but ended up being a debate largely about sensors. READ MORE

 

NOTEWORTHY: DEAN FOODS GETS IN ON ORGANIC WITH JUICE COMPANY PURCHASE

 

With Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods showing more consumer interest in organic and healthy brands, Dean Foods is getting in on the trend with its purchase of juice company Uncle Matt’s Organic. Dean acquired the Clermont, Florida-based company for an undisclosed amount, it announced Thursday. Under the deal, Uncle Matt’s will continue to operate out of its Florida headquarters as a subsidiary of Dean.READ MORE

NOTEWORTHY: SPURRING AGRICULTURAL INNOVATION ACROSS THE NATION

Chris Isbell didn’t set out to make history. He was just following in his father’s footsteps. But on June 14, 2017, Chris Isbell and six other farmers – two from California and five from Arkansas and Mississippi – did just that. The first ever carbon credits generated from rice farmers were sold to Microsoft, all because these pioneers tested out a radical idea – that by implementing conservation practices on their crops, rice farmers could reduce methane emissions and thereby generate a carbon credit that could later be sold on the carbon market. Their voluntary conservation practices not only generated carbon credits but also reduced energy consumption and water use, critical to both regions. The sale of the carbon offset credits, managed by Terra Global Capital, to Natural Capital Partners on behalf of its client Microsoft, rewards the farmers for their activities and demonstrates credibly measured environmental benefits. READ MORE

NOTEWORTHY: IN SUPPORT OF AG: FOUNDATION READIES FIRST PROJECTS

A new foundation with a long term goal of promoting agriculture in South Dakota is gearing up to launch its first grant programs. The South Dakota Agricultural Foundation recently announced four programs that aim to support ag-related economic development efforts, fund projects in rural communities, boost agricultural education, and convince teenagers to pursue a career in agriculture. In many cases, the ag foundation will be working with already established groups to broaden their programs. Board members say they hope to leverage resources that are already available. READ MORE

INNOVATIVE STARTUPS: AGRICULTURAL STARTUP BVT BETS ON BEES TO PROTECT CROPS

On a perfect sunny afternoon in late May at Organics Family Farm in Markham, Ont., David Passafiume is carefully dotting his newly planted strawberry field with eight man-made bumblebee hives. The hives are constructed out of lightweight corrugated plastic, and inside each hive is a colony of bees that, over the next few weeks, will work non-stop to help protect his crop from a grey mould called botrytis while at the same time keeping his strawberries certified organic. (In order to remain certified, the farm can’t use chemical fungicides.) Just a few botrytis spores are enough to wipe out an entire field of strawberries if left untreated.tors to the agtech ecosystem. READ MORE

INNOVATIVE STARTUPS: THIS VERTICAL FARM WANTS TO BE AN AGRICULTURE COMPANY, NOT A TECH COMPANY

As the indoor farming industry has taken off in the last several years–over the next 10 years, indoor farming is expected to account for 50% of leafy green production, and grow to a $42 billion industry–it’s become apparent that it’s as much about technology as it is about agriculture. Bowery, a new startup operating out of an old warehouse building in Kearney, New Jersey, developed a sensor-based proprietary technology, called BoweryOS, specifically to support the venture by determining necessary nutrient levels, as well as when crops are ready for harvesting. And in South San Francisco, Plenty is growing produce via a tech-supported vertical farming model that has already received $26 million from tech investors like Bezos Expeditions and Innovation Endeavors. For FreshBox Farms, an indoor farm operational since 2015 at an old factory site in Millis, Massachusetts, around 30 miles outside of Boston, the technology is important–it is, after all, what enables the greens to grow–but it’s not sacred. READ MORE

INNOVATIVE STARTUPS: 18 JAW-DROPPING IDEAS PICKED FOR 2017 AG INNOVATION SHOWCASE

Eighteen early stage companies will get the opportunity to show off their innovative work and blow the ag industry away at the 9th annual Ag Innovation Showcase, September 11-13, 2017 at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, in St. Louis, Missouri. “Each year, we seek to showcase innovations and innovators, foster conversations, and point to trends affecting agriculture and food. We have plotted the evolution of the Showcase from its earliest days pointing to precision agriculture, biologicals, and the development of data as a driving force. And we’ve sought to highlight and encourage the growth of diversity in our community. This is innovation at ground zero,” said Rohit Shukla, founder and chief executive officer, Larta Institute. READ MORE

 

INNOVATIVE STARTUPS: THE 25 MOST INNOVATIVE AG-TECH STARTUPS

 

From irrigation hardware engineered to beat the drought to biotechnology startups cultivating future cash crops, Forbes has identified the 25 most innovative pieces of burgeoning technology in this space. Together, they have more than $400 million in financing. Those investments come from the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Kholsa Ventures, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Monsanto Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as in-house venture capital arms like Campbell Soup’s Acre Ventures. Even President Barack Obama’s former White House chef is getting in the game. To find the 25 ag-tech startups that carry the most potential, we surveyed the agricultural technology landscape by speaking with experts, venture capitalists and accelerators; then, we examined financials and each company’s agricultural credentials. READ MORE

PLANTS & TRAITS: EIGHT PARTNERS WILL POOL RESOURCES TO BOLSTER CROP BREEDING TOOLBOX

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit organization established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, today joined with Bayer, Biogemma, KWS, FAPESP, Precision PlantSciences, Rijk Zwaan and CIMMYT to launch the Crops of the Future Collaborative, a new consortium that will accelerate crop breeding to meet global food demand 20-50 years in the future. FFAR’s initial $10 million commitment is expected to leverage significant additional investment from partners.With the world population projected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050, the Crops of the Future Collaborative will accelerate crop breeding through an innovative public-private model that pools proprietary knowledge, financial resources, and technology to carry out crop-specific research initially focusing on maize, leafy greens and wheat and small grains. The consortium will hone in on how a crop’s genetic information can yield traits needed to meet global nutritional demands in a changing environment. Participants will see their investments multiplied by a “one-to-many” matching model. READ MORE

 

PLANTS & TRAITS: AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY COMPANY PHYTELLIGENCE RAISES $7 MILLION

Agricultural technology company Phytelligence has raised $6.95 million to grow its business. The company plans to invest the money to expand propagation capacity, according to a news release, including taking on more greenhouse space. “We’re also spending a tremendous amount of time and money to constantly improve the process — looking at robotics, looking at the ability to do grafting in a tissue culture lab with a younger plant to speed the process,” CEO Ken Hunt said in the release. READ MORE

PLANTS & TRAITS: AG BIOTECH COMPANY NEWLEAF SYMBIOTICS ANNOUNCES $24MM C ROUND FINANCING NEWLEAF SYMBIOTICS

NewLeaf Symbiotics announced today the close of a $24MM series C financing round, accelerating plans to convert proven applications of its biotechnology into products for large-scale agriculture. The company’s commitment to tapping the advantages of Methylotrophic bacteria has positioned it as a leader in agricultural biologicals. Monsanto Growth Ventures (MGV) and Otter Capital jointly led the round. Lewis & Clark Ventures participated in the financing, as did Rockport Capital, Pangaea Ventures, Open Prairie Ventures, and other investors. NewLeaf will use the invested capital to commercialize seed treatment and in-furrow products for soybeans, corn, wheat, peanuts, and other crops. The company is tripling the size of its R&D and pilot production facility in St. Louis and is expanding its proprietary Prescriptive Biologics Knowledgebase™ bioinformatics platform. READ MORE

 

PLANTS & TRAITS: ASTA TESTIFIES BEFORE HOUSE AG COMMITTEE ON PLANT BREEDING INNOVATION, FARM BILL

 

American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) President and CEO Andy LaVigne testified today at a U.S. House Agriculture Committee hearing on the farm bill and innovation in specialty crops. LaVigne stressed the importance of promoting a climate of innovation through the funding of farm bill research programs and the enactment of clear and consistent, science-based policies across the government. READ MORE

 

PLANTS & TRAITS: SEED COMPANY SECURES CRISPR RIGHTS

 

DuPont Pioneer announced it has secured exclusive rights to CRISPR-cas technology for all agricultural uses and applications in plants. CRISPR is one of the newest ways to edit biological genomes. DuPont Pioneer Vice-President Neal Gutterson says, “We see CRISPR-Cas technology as an advancement in plant breeding which can enable a new era in crop improvement. This licensing agreement with ERS is a piece of DuPont Pioneer’s strategy to position our business as a leader in the application of CRISPR-Cas in agriculture.” The licensing agreement is with ERS Genomics and already DuPont has 60 patents or patent applications for CRISPR bacteria identification and immunization, as well as gene editing technology. READ MORE

 

PLANTS & TRAITS: AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY COMPANY CALYXT

FILES FOR IPO

 

Calyxt Inc., a New Brighton-based gene-editing agricultural company with roots at the University of Minnesota, has filed for an initial public offering that could raise $50 million. Calyxt aims to make genetically modified crops for consumers and farmers using technology developed at a French gene-editing company, Cellectis SA, and the U. The company’s TALEN technology uses “molecular scissors” to create desirable traits and does not add foreign DNA during the process, Calyxt said in its filing Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. READ MORE

 

PLANTS & TRAITS: HIGH METHIONINE SOYBEAN DEVELOPED BY PLANT SENSORY SYSTEMS AND SCHILLINGER GENETICS

 

Plant Sensory Systems, LLC and Schillinger Genetics, Inc. have entered into a collaboration to move towards commercialization a new high methionine soybean variety for animal feed. Under the agreement, Plant Sensory Systems receives an exclusive commercial license to Schillinger Genetics’ NAVITA soybean variety that contains the Enhanced-Nutrition (EN) technology developed by Plant Sensory Systems. The EN technology increases several essential amino acids in seeds, including methionine. Conventional soybeans are deficient in methionine. To meet dietary requirements, methionine is added to nearly all soy-based feed. Chemically synthesized methionine (or its analog) is the most common form of the supplemental amino acid in feed. READ MORE

ACCELERATORS & INCUBATORS: THIS REAL ESTATE FIRM IS PUTTING MONEY IN RTP GREENHOUSES

Real estate giant Alexandria Real Estate Equities has expanded its bet on the region’s vibrant agricultural technology sector by acquiring a former Syngenta site to launch a new agtech center in Research Triangle Park. The new Alexandria Center for AgTech-RTP unveiled Wednesday is the first site of its kind aimed at multiple tenants in the agtech space, said Joel Marcus, founder and CEO of California-based Alexandria. READ MORE

ACCELERATORS & INCUBATORS: AGTECH STARTUPS TO BENEFIT FROM WELLS FARGO GRANT TO WESTERN GROWERS IN SALINAS

The Wells Fargo Foundation has awarded Western Growers a $30,000 grant for a second consecutive year to further advance the efforts of agricultural technology startup companies through a scholarship to the Grower’s agtech incubator in Salinas. READ MORE

ACCELERATORS & INCUBATORS: TAYLOR FARMS & THRIVE CONTINUE TO INVEST IN THE NEXT WAVE OF AGTECH INNOVATION

Taylor Farms, North America’s largest producer of salads and healthy fresh foods, participated in the annual THRIVE Demo Day that took place at the CSUMB Salinas City Center on Wednesday, June 28th. The THRIVE Demo Day is the capstone event for the THRIVE 8-week startup accelerator, which featured 10 entrepreneurs who pitched their agriculture technologies to potential investors, business leaders, and media. Taylor Farms Chairman and CEO, Bruce Taylor was a keynote speaker during the invitation only event, speaking to the continued importance of real time collaboration between technology and farming companies. READ MORE

 

ACCELERATORS & INCUBATORS: NMSU’S ARROWHEAD CENTER TO HOST INAUGRAL AGSPRINT ASSEMBLY

 

Leaders and entrepreneurs in the world of agricultural technology will join promising agtech startups to discuss ideas to help promote and develop agtech investments in New Mexico, as well as the global state of agriculture, at the inaugural AgSprint Assembly, which will take place Aug. 10 at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. AgSprint Assembly features exceptionally productive ag-market leaders who will talk about demands from the frontlines, translating ideas from vision to reality and the future of agtech investment. Zetdi Sloan, director of Arrowhead Technology Incubator, said the event represents the coming together of various contributors to the agtech ecosystem. READ MORE

PRECISION AG & ROBOTICS: THE ROBOTS ARE COMING

A couple of years ago Gary Wishnatzki was standing in the middle of one of his Plant City, FL strawberry fields watching as an awkward, unlikely creature creeped and crawled along the rows. That, he told a visiting reporter, pointing to the unwieldy machine clambering amongst the plants, is the future of agriculture. He was right. The robots are coming. Some of them are already here. READ MORE

PRECISION AG & ROBOTICS: ROBOTIC OLIVE HARVESTERS MIGHT BE ON THE HORIZON

The future of agriculture is fast approaching and could dramatically affect olive oil production costs. Abundant Robotics in Hayward, California is prototyping a fruit-picker that employs artificial intelligence to determine the optimal time to pick fruit as it vacuums the product into a collection bin. The machine is currently being tested on apples, but the company founders anticipate branching out into other fruit in the future. After securing a $10 million investment from Google Ventures, Yamaha Motor Company, and others, Abundant Robotics is poised to disrupt traditional agricultural methods for harvesting, including olives. READ MORE

PRECISION AG & ROBOTICS: 4D INNOVATION IN GEORGIA FIELDS

Traditionally, crop monitoring has been done manually, which is very labor and cost intensive. More recent precision agricultural tools such as satellites and unmanned aerial and ground vehicles have reduced costs, but the amount of useful information that can be gathered from 2D images and 3D reconstructions is limited. Thanks to a new research collaboration by the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech Research Institute, farmers may soon have a 4D crop monitoring system at their fingertips. The team constructs 4D images by compiling a series of 3D images collected over time. The 4D data can provide farmers with detailed crop information including plant heights and growth rates. This new method of autonomously monitoring agricultural crops may lower costs, improve harvest yields, and ultimately provide more food to people around the world. This effort was funded by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. READ MORE

PRECISION AG & ROBOTICS: THIS AUSTIN FOUNDER SEES ROBOTS AS THE FARMERS OF THE FUTURE

Even during SXSW, where free food is just about everywhere, a hidden rule lies beneath it all: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Matt Droter, CEO and Founder of ROS Agriculture, agrees… to an extent. Droter is working transform food production similar to how aluminum was transformed in the late 1800s. “Aluminum used to be the most expensive metal in the world,” he said. “But, through technology, it became disposable. We are trying to do the same thing with food, using robots powered by ROS.” READ MORE

 

PRECISION AG & ROBOTICS: PURDUE TEAM TAKES SECOND-PLACE HONORS AT AGBOT CHALLENGE

 

A team from Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering finished second overall in the weed and feed competition of the second annual agBOT Challenge. Fourteen teams representing educational institutions and technology companies throughout the United States and Canada entered the challenge, held June 23-25 at Gerrish Farms in Rockville. READ MORE

BIOBASED PRODUCTS: THIN-WALLED BIOBASED PACKAGING THAT’S INJECTION-MOLDABLE AND COMMERCIALLY VIABLE

Biobased plastics are rarely used in injection-molded food packaging (e.g., salad, butter, tomato containers), but an interesting new consortium formed in The Netherlands is aiming to change this.  Despite food producers interest in biobased packaging, the biggest hurdle is that this interest dramatically drops when they calculate what the switch to these materials would cost, according to senior polymer scientist Gerald Schennink of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. READ MORE

BIOBASED PRODUCTS: PENN STATE RESEARCH ON AVIATION BIOFUELS FOCUSES ON REGIONAL SUPPLY CHAINS

In Pennsylvania, researchers at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are evaluating regional supply chains that could be used for alternative jet fuel production, including feedstock production, transportation and fuel conversion. Researchers are examining fuel-production pathways, feedstock and infrastructure requirements, and commercial fuel demand to create scenarios for future production. READ MORE

FUTURE FARM: TYSON FOODS ROLLS OUT HIGH TECH HIGH TOUCH ANIMAL WELFARE PROGRAM

As part of its focus on sustainable food production, Tyson Foods has launched a broad, new animal well-being initiative that combines the latest technology with high-touch monitoring and training to improve the care of chickens. The company has implemented the U.S. meat industry’s most extensive third-party remote video auditing (RVA) system, is fielding what is believed to be the world’s largest team of animal well-being specialists and is introducing a pilot project for controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) at two of its poultry facilities this year. READ MORE

 

FUTURE FARM: 2017 AGTECH LANDSCAPE: WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON

 

We have adopted a new format to reflect the ever-evolving mosaic of companies entering the Food & AgTech fray. In this post, I will look at what’s happening in the AgTech field, with investment and consolidation activity as a backdrop. I will also highlight some key drivers in the post-harvest technology segment fueling the proliferation of companies popping up to meet the big challenges (and opportunities) in the supply chain. READ MORE

 

FUTURE FARM: CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE: BEYOND THE ORGANIC VS. CONVENTIONAL CULTURE WARS DEBATE

 

Debunking too often tends to be a team sport and just because it’s inevitable, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. In food and farm issues, only biotech drives more debunking than the organic vs conventional debate. When you are responding to misinformation, the “other” side already has defined the terms of the debate and it’s hard to bust out of those frames. Often that means the big picture gets lost. I’ve been guilty of this and we’ll get to an example of that, but let’s start with the post that got me to finally write this one. READ MORE

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