ST. LOUIS – Ag Innovation Showcase celebrated its 10th anniversary in September in St. Louis. Since its inaugural year in 2009, the annual event has featured innovations in the agricultural and food industries through presentations by industry leaders and promising early-stage companies.
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” said Sam Fiorello, chief operating officer of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.
The Danforth Center of St. Louis and the Larta Institute of Los Angeles have organized the Ag Innovation Showcase for the past decade. Bio Research and Development Growth Park of St. Louis is also involved in the effort.
About 100 people attended the first conference in 2009. The event now attracts about 500 attendees who have numerous opportunities to network with agricultural- and food-technology developers and investors. Moreover one-third of the attendees now hail from outside the United States, Fiorello said.
Each year a committee comprised of industry representatives from across the value chain solicits proposals from early-stage companies to make presentations at Ag Innovation Showcase. More than a dozen companies made presentations at the 2018 showcase. One group of companies shared information about their products and solutions to protect crops and plants from pests, to enhance plant nutrition and soil health, and to use nutrients from waste-product streams.
Monitor crops for timely treatment
Among the group of presenters was Aker Technologies, which has developed in-season crop-monitoring tools. The company’s “AkerScout” is a free application that helps farmers and agronomists identify and prioritize crop damage. Basic features are scout-task coordination as well as assignment of fields and scouts. Also featured is a database for identification of pests, diseases and environmental stresses. The app also allows for field mapping and reporting. It’s available for download at the Apple Store or at the Google Play Store.
Aker also has developed “True Cause,” which is comprised of 16 sensors and software to collect data underneath plant canopies. It may be used as a hand probe – or installed on farm equipment or an unmanned aerial vehicle. The sensors and high-resolution cameras find diseases, insects, nutritional deficiencies and environmental stresses. True Cause detects temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and carbon-dioxide content.
Aker launched True Cause in spring 2018 in southern Minnesota. The technology is scanning 40 control fields, delivering pest alerts on a weekly basis during the growing season. The cost is $300 per subscription, said Orlando Saez, co-founder and CEO of Aker Technologies. He shared the technology in a presentation in June at the Forbes AgTech Summit. Aker is collaborating with BASF, Bayer and an agricultural retailer to distribute the technology.
Probes provide depth of understanding
Dan Casson, vice-president of engineering, and Meagan Hynes, vice-president of soil science, both of Teralytic, discussed their company’s nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium plus soil-moisture probe. The probe features sensors located at three depths to give growers a better understanding of both shallow- and deep-rooting crops from the perspectives of fertility, water management and environmental monitoring.
“Growers can see where their fertilizer applications are going, and whether or not fertilizer is readily available at crop roots,” Casson said.
Hynes said, “Seeing a lot of nitrates at the 36-inch sensor, for example, could be a sign of nitrate leaching.”
Farmers don’t need a broadband connection to use Teralytic probes. The probes use a long-range radio to transmit to a gateway strategically placed on the farm or can talk to a long-range wide-area network, if available. The long-range gateway typically sends data to the Teralytic cloud via cellular. If a reliable cellular connection isn’t available, a satellite-enabled gateway can be used.
Recapture phosphorus for fertilizer efficiency
Also presenting at Ag Innovation Showcase was Phospholutions, which has patented technology to retain, recapture and recycle phosphorus that could otherwise run off into waterways. Developed at Pennsylvania State University, the “RhizoSorb” technology works by treating polluted waste streams with an adsorbent to remove phosphorus. That phosphorus can then be applied as controlled-release fertilizer. RhizoSorb soaks up and controls the release of plant nutrients through time, allowing roots to grow deep into the soil.
Existing slow-release-fertilizer technologies depend on environmental conditions such as temperature and moisture to break down. Conversely RhizoSorb releases phosphorus based on plant demand, meaning it releases in the soil only as plant uptake occurs, said Hunter Swisher, founder and CEO of Phospholutions.
Because the phosphorus in RhizoSorb is sourced from waste streams, manufacturers can make it more inexpensively than companies using virgin nutrient sources, he said. Phospholutions is currently working with distributors to provide the product to users in the turf, ornamental and agricultural markets.
The company also is working on a product that could be used to pull out useful nutrients like phosphorus in manure pits and lagoons. That phosphorus could be transported or sold.
Nutrient-recovery system explained
Karen Schuett of Livestock Water Recycling discussed data-accumulation sensors and a subscription-based analytics program that her company has added to its system for removing manure contaminants and segregating nutrients. The Livestock Water Recycling system, which was first installed in 2012 in the state of New York, is designed to reduce consumable and operating costs.
The company’s technology uses mechanical and chemical treatments. About 90 percent of phosphorus in livestock or dairy manure can be removed and used as fertilizer for crops. The second wave of Livestock Water Recycling’s technology involves removing potassium and ammonium. Nutrients are segregated – and water also can be reused to clean animal facilities, Schuett said.