Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series featuring agricultural-startup companies and investment in them by The Yield Lab of St. Louis. Parts 1 and 2 each featured three startups in The Yield Lab’s large portfolio. The following article features three more startups – BayoTech, Rootwave and NanoGuard Technologies.
The founders of The Yield Lab business accelerator have stated that it’s their mission to enable entrepreneurs to sustainably revolutionize agri-food systems. The organization invests in agricultural- and food-startup companies, with accelerators serving North America, Europe and Latin America.
RootWave zaps weeds with electricity
The Yield Lab Europe, based in Dublin, Ireland, was launched in April 2017. One of the startups it selected for investment was RootWave of Kineton, England. RootWave uses electricity to kill weeds. The company already has commercialized a hand-weeding product that helps gardeners and groundskeepers to spot and zap weeds. It’s working on scaling up the technology for row crops, said Andrew Diprose, CEO of RootWave.
A weed-control alternative is needed because herbicide-resistant weeds are becoming increasingly problematic worldwide, Disprose said. Some countries have taken steps to restrict or ban glyphosate.
President Emmanuel Macron of France announced in November 2017 that France would issue a ban on glyphosate within the next three years. In January 2018, Germany’s coalition government agreed to begin the process of banning glyphosate. And in the first week of August, a federal judge in Brazil ruled that new products containing glyphosate couldn’t be registered in that country. The judge also ruled that existing registrations would be suspended within 30 days until the government re-evaluated their toxicology, according to Reuters.
RootWave will be working with Steketee, a Dutch manufacturer of cultivators and other mechanical weeders to integrate its electrical and machine-vision technology. The systems will be tested in row crops in 2019 and commercialized sometime in 2020, Diprose said.
BayoTech takes fertilizer to field
The Yield Lab of North America also has invested in BayoTech, an Albuquerque-based company focused on modular chemical reactors for the distributed production of fertilizer.
“We want to take advantage of the country’s natural-gas resources, and produce fertilizer where it’s going to be consumed,” said Justin Eisenach, president and CEO of BayoTech. “There’s a need for distributed urea and ammonia in agriculture. Corn is distributed while inputs are concentrated.”
The technology allows for local fertilizer production focused on farmer needs.
“Other than Environmentally Smart Nitrogen – ESN – there’s only been a one-size-fits-all solution in the fertilizer industry,” Eisenbach said.
With BayoTech’s system, farmers could test and tailor fertilizer for each particular area. That could potentially lead to more efficient delivery, decreasing application rates and increasing utilization of fertilizers by crops, he said.
Eisenach said The Yield Lab has helped his company craft its message to the investment community.
“It also has offered us professional assistance in legal and accounting areas,” he said. “I can’t say enough good things about the quality of the people and the transfer of knowledge from The Yield Lab.”
NanoGuard uses high voltage to tackle mycotoxins
Another company in The Yield Lab business-accelerator program is NanoGuard Technologies of St. Louis. The company is developing high-voltage atmospheric cold-plasma technology to protect grain, meat and other foods from mycotoxins as well as dangerous bacteria, mold and fungi.
NanoGuard Technologies has built upon the foundational work of Kevin Keener, an adjunct professor of food sciences, and agricultural and biological engineering, for Purdue University, said Larry Clarke, CEO of NanoGuard Technologies.
The technology involves passing high voltage – between 80 and 100 kilovolts – in a gap between two plates. The plate technology is proprietary, Clarke said. As air passes through the gap plates it becomes energized. Energized air particles are able to reduce microflora living on the surface of grain and other food products. That microflora can consist of bacteria, molds and fungi.
NanoGuard Technologies was awarded a Phase 1 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to test the technology’s activity on alfatoxins on almonds. Tests showed it could reduce aflatoxins without affecting the flavor of the almonds, Clarke said.
The company is continuing to test the technology’s ability to treat high volumes of grain.
“We’re about two years away from introducing a commercial device for use in large grain-processing facilities or terminals,” he said.
As the technology advances and associated costs decline, it could potentially be used at the farm level to protect dairy cattle and other livestock from mycotoxins in feed.