39 North Innovation District Plan Unveiled
The Science in Our Food
By: Jim Erickson
Posted 09/23/13 2:00 pm
Anyone viewing agriculture as an industry ranking low on the technology sophistication scale would have received a radically different picture at the recent Ag Innovation Showcase at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.
The fifth annual event lived up to its name as a showcase of innovation affecting not just U.S. farmers and ranchers but also consumers worldwide.
Sessions, held Sept. 10-11, featured presentations by companies on the leading edge of technologies with a major impact on the production of food as well as its storage, handling and distribution, and environmental effects.
Data management and analysis tools designed to guide producers in farming more competitively and sustainably also were in the spotlight.
Illustrating the worldwide emphasis on such research, companies making presentations were from countries around the globe, as were investors, potential partners and others attending the event.
Opening keynote speaker, Dr. Robert T. Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto, observed, “Innovation must increase to enable agriculture to keep pace with demand (from a rapidly growing world population).”
Recognized for the discovery, development and successful commercialization of Roundup Ready® crops, Fraley noted that many agricultural advances today feature integrated seed and management solutions.
For example, data from precision agriculture information mapping soil types and quality down to 10-meter squares in farm fields can be placed on a strip readable by tractor-mounted computers. Attached to seed containers on a planter pulled by the tractor equipped with GPS equipment, the system varies the amount of seed planted in each square to achieve the best yields. More seed is used in good soil that can support more plants while less is applied in ground of lesser quality.
Showcase sessions featured presentations on precision agriculture, while others centered on a variety of farming innovations, biological solutions and advances in renewable and sustainable practices.
Panels of experts also discussed the promise and pitfalls of information technology in agriculture, bio-solutions in agriculture and the challenges and opportunities in early-stage financing of technology start-up companies.
One of the more intriguing presentations was from SenesTech, Inc., an Arizona firm that has developed a way to reduce rat populations without using rodenticides, which rarely are cost-effective and can be lethal to humans and other animals and harmful to the environment.
The company’s solution is a product that drastically reduces rodent fertility in a non-surgical, non-toxic and environmentally neutral manner.
The initial focus is on rats because of damage they do to crops, but the product can be modified to target other species, including mice, wild horses, dogs, cats, deer, wallabies and other animals where humane population control is needed.
Among other innovations reviewed were:
• Technology to increase crop yields with biotech-based traits that enhance photosynthesis and carbon fixation in plants. Benson Hill Biosystems, a company with operations in the St. Louis area and North Carolina, is behind that effort.
• An Australian firm’s process to encapsulate ethylene gas into a powdered product that ripens fruits in transit rather than in ripening rooms at the market where the produce is sold. The technology means fruit can get to market quicker, cheaper and in better condition.
Since the event began in 2009, companies making presentations have raised $96 million and 95 percent of presenters have found potential business partners.
Read the article in its entirety here.