Tue, 01/15/2019 - 11:50 by Margy Eckelkamp

Fifteen grams of soil can profile a microbiome profile using DNA sequencing for better crop decisions. Think of it as a genetic test just like the check swab of 23 and Me and other DNA kits but for your soil.

Launched 3.5 years ago and with most of their experience in high value specialty crops, Trace Genomics is pioneering a soil test technology to accurately assess agronomic potential and risks before the growing season begins.

“Our product is a combination of genomics, microbiology, and machine learning,” explains Poornima Parameswaran, president and co-founder of Trace Genomics, which is a scalable soil microbiome testing tech company.

The company uses those three technologies to take a soil sample and then deliver a report showing soil health characteristics and potential agronomic risks. As described by its leaders, the company is digitizing the soil’s bacteria and fungi populations to then better inform planting, scouting, fertilizer, and crop protection decisions.

“We started in strawberry and lettuce production,” Parameswaran says. “And for example, in lettuce we can identify more than 10 leaf pathogens and diseases to help inform farmers what variety to plant. This also can help the farmer budget, before the season begins, for crop protection applications based on the risk level.”

The company also has experience in potatoes, apples, and other specialty crops. By 2020, the company aims to expand with experience in row crops. In soybeans, the company aims to better assess the risks and improve management for sudden death syndrome in soybeans.

For retailers, she says the report can help them position products.  

“Our soil health profile gives retailers the ability to better show value for products to their growers, and one particular example is biologicals,” Parameswaran says.

The sample procedure is compatible with grid or zone management. Each sample is 15 grams of soil, which is collected in a barcoded tube.

“Genomic technology is powerful because every test looks at everything in the soil,” Parameswaran says. “And emerging pathogens can be added to the panel easily.”

Right now, the company has a two-tiered pricing structure based on per acre tested and type of crop.

Watch a video overview of Trace Genomics here:

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 11:48 by Sonja Begemann

This week Raven Industries of Sioux Falls closed on AgSync, Inc., formerly headquartered in Wakarusa, Ind.

The company says this acquisition will help Raven greatly enhance its Slingshot platform by delivering a logistics solution for retailers, custom applicators and enterprise farms. AgSync was developed to bring solutions to retail, aerial applicators, seed companies and others to help address challenges related to logistics, connecting software systems and dealing with employees across multiple locations. With this acquisition, products and technology from AgSync will align under Raven’s Applied Technology division.

“We are pleased to officially welcome the AgSync team to the Raven family,” said Brain Meyer, vice president and general manager of Raven Applied Technology in a recent press release. “They bring a wealth of knowledge in precision ag logistics management that already compliments the Raven Slingshot solution. By further integrating our systems and expertise, Raven will be able to off the most complete logistics solution on the market—improving bottom-line for our core customers.”

AgSync partnered with Raven Slingshot before this acquisition. The company says acquiring AgSync will allow them to further integrate capabilities into cabs of various equipment.

“We are especially committed to continuing the growth and success of Slingshot, particularly its focus toward creating a stronger connection to the cab,” said Clay Rassi, head of sales for AgSync.

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 11:39 by Sonja Begemann

Technology has vastly increased the choices when it comes to molecular breeding for crop traits. But how do you narrow-down the options to the best choices?

Syngenta recently announced a deal with NRGene, a genomics-to-breeding solution provider, using the GenoMAGIC data analytics platform. The platform enables high-performance molecular breeding.

The companies have reached a multi-year collaboration agreement, after Syngenta completed  a one-year trial on GenoMAGIC. In testing, the company found it enabled the identification and comparison of genetic makeup of large populations of subjects to select only the best candidates for breeding.

“Based on this one-year trial, we are confident that NRGene’s analytical platform is the optimal tool to support our genomics-based, molecular breeding pipeline,” said Stuart Harrison, head technology integration, Syngenta global seeds research, in a recent press release. “We are excited to expand the collaboration using GenoMAGIC in maize.”

Syngenta will also decode the full genomic makeup of dozens of commercial crop varieties using DeNovoMAGICTM-3 software to expand the application of genomics in breeding, gene editing and other genetic research projects.

The GenoMAGIC tool integrates the large amount of available genomic data to provide immediate access and insight for breeders.

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 13:04 by Sonja Begemann

As technology evolves on farms, producers are opened up to new attacks to their livelihood. A report supported by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security outlines the ways in which precision agriculture techniques could provide additional points of vulnerability to farmers.

“Precision agriculture is unique, however, because it took a highly mechanical labor-intensive industry and connected it online,” the report explains, “dramatically increased the attack space available to threat actors. Due to this, otherwise common threats may have unique and far-reaching consequences on the agricultural industry.”

The report defines the following attack categories:

  • Data theft
  • Stealing resources
  • Reputation loss
  • Destruction of equipment
  • Gaining an improper financial advantage over a competitor

On-farm risks include the improper use of USB thumb drives, spear-phishing and/or malicious cyber-attacks

“The danger is not just cyber-attacks per se, but any danger which could negatively affect… such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, equipment breakdown, or insider threats,” the report continues.

Here are 13 vulnerabilities for farmers to be aware of: 

  1. Theft of data collected through decision support systems (DSS) or the unintentional leakage of data to third parties. As the number of apps and farm management software systems increase, farmer risk could increase. The report highlights privacy controls, user agreements, third-party applications and system update procedures are “haphazard at best. Many have been built by start-ups or university extension programs which outsource their programming and may not provide updates or patching.”
  2. Intentional publishing of confidential information from within the industry. This could be from a supplier to damage the company or cause chaos like in the 2014 Sony cyber-attack, the report says. If pricing and market data of farmers from a supplier were released it could be catastrophic for suppliers as farmers would lose all confidence in them.
  3. Foreign access to unmanned aerial system (UAS) data. Foreign governments or parties gaining access to senor collection data from a UAS provider could create national security issues. It could allow a foreign entity to aggregate agricultural information on the U.S.
  4. Sale of confidential data. This research indicated on such threat could be a company being approached with offers to sell their data under the table to commodity brokers or hedge funds, for example.
  5. Falsified data to disrupt crop or livestock sectors. False allegations of animal or crop diseases could greatly impact markets by discouraging foreign importers from buying U.S. product. It could take months to prove or disprove allegations once released, too. For example, if a malicious actor publicly released false data suggesting an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease it could take months to resolve the export market implications.
  6. Integrating rogue data into a network to damage a crop or herd. This could have the greatest impact on high-value crops such as vegetables and fruit because they rely on senor technology the most. Hacking into senor systems could over- or under-water the crop and destroy it, among other threats. In livestock it could disrupt an HVAC system and hurt or kill animals.
  7. Insufficient machine learning models. “Insufficiently modeled algorithms, ‘100-year storm’ data outliers, and inherent biases in the data which creep into the predictive models can all have unintended and adverse effects.” Their research indicates this threat is small now but will grow over time.
  8. Timing equipment availability. Because planting and harvesting is such a tight window, a malicious actor could hack into one or thousands of machines to delay farmers—potentially causing them to get crops in or out late to negatively affect yield.
  9. Disruption of navigation, positioning and timing systems—space based. GPS signals are used by many and the U.S. uses 5G broadband for these systems. Crowding issues and loss of signal is routine and because most guidance systems rely on some foreign systems those could be used as leverage or lost during crisis or conflict. This could limit farmer access to these tools.
  10. Disruption of navigation, positioning and timing systems—ground based. Losing base stations for real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning could be accomplished by natural disasters at county or multi-county levels, severely impacting farmer operations.
  11. Communication disruption. Data transfer relies on signal and data bandwidth—a weak point for precision ag. Rural broadband isn’t always reliable. It’s the most likely threat to come to fruition impacting farmer availability of technology.
  12. Foreign access to equipment used in precision ag. There is some risk that foreign-manufactured equipment could be remotely disabled in bulk through either built-in firmware backdoor access or through malicious code. This would be particularly damaging during times of crisis or time crunch such as planting.
  13. Livestock production facility failure. Internet connected buildings that house and manage livestock could be hacked to disable HVAC or feeding systems both through malicious cyber-attack or through software failure or human error.
Tue, 01/08/2019 - 12:56 by Margy Eckelkamp

GSI GrainVizWith a planned launch in 2019, GSI partnered with 151 Research to bring to market the GSI GrainViz.

A departure from the current technologies that use cable systems, the GrainViz system creates a three-dimensional map of the grain moisture. GSI says the technology is a similar to an MRI or CT scan as GrainViz provides moisture content of the entire grain mass which can be monitored and measured down to the individual bushel.

The system has a customer portal to view and manage the grain bins for proactive management including fan control, inventory reporting, and interactive management with outside weather. In addition to moisture, GrainViz can help farmers monitor insect or rodent activity (and human activity).

“We are excited about GSI’s partnership with 151 Research to deliver best-in-class solutions for agriculture. This partnership is part of our ongoing strategy to rethink the way grain is stored, conditioned, and moved, and will help our customers protect what they’ve worked so hard to produce,” Tom Welke, AGCO Senior Vice President, Global Grain and Protein said in a news release. “GrainViz fits well within that strategy alongside other recent GSI innovations like Z-Series Bins with Flexwave Technology and the Binrite Grain Identification System. GSI is delivering on AGCO’s mission of high tech solutions for farmers feeding the world.”

GSI is a division of AGCO.

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 11:54 by Guest Author

By Adam Russell, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

A new, pioneering forage wheat model could provide a valuable technique to researchers exploring the potential of biomass production for cool-season annual forage grasses, according to model developers.

Researchers at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton – Dr. Monte Rouquette, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant physiologist, and Dr. Prem Woli, AgriLife Research crop modeler, recently published a paper in Agronomy Journal titled “Simulating Winter Wheat Forage Production in the Southern U.S. Using a Forage Wheat Model.” 

It focuses on annual forage grass modeling with the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer, or DSSAT, suite of crop computer models. Research by Dr. Charles Long, AgriLife Research animal breeder and center director; Dr. Ray Smith, AgriLife Research plant breeder and Dr. Lloyd Nelson, AgriLife Research plant breeder and professor emeritus, all in Overton, also contributed to the publication.  

“This model using DSSAT provides an application of decades of field data from Texas A&M AgriLife Research at Overton to be used to guide future decisions on forage wheat production,” Long said. “Simulating alternative outcomes for forage wheat production management options will ultimately aid producers in making decisions.”

DSSAT is a software application program that comprises dynamic crop growth simulation models for over 40 crops, according to the DSSAT website. The program is supported by a range of utilities and applications for weather, soil, genetics, crop management and observational experimental data. It also includes example data sets for all the crop models included in the suite.

Crop simulation models, including the forage wheat model, simulate growth, development and biomass production as a function of the soil-plant-atmosphere dynamics and management.

The soil-plant-atmosphere system comprises environmental factors such as soil type, weather –  temperatures, solar radiation, wind and precipitation – and production management variables including cultivars, planting/harvesting dates and inputs such as nitrogen fertilizer, Rouquette said.

Like other crop models, the forage wheat model may be used by researchers, educators or students to understand the mechanisms underlying forage wheat biomass production — or by growers or extension agents as a tool for optimizing forage wheat production, Woli said. Users can analyze “what-if” scenarios by manipulating the various factors that impact biomass production.

“The techniques and algorithms used while developing this model may be tremendously useful to other researchers interested in this field,” he said. “That is a significant contribution to annual forage grass modeling. A first annual forage grass model has been incorporated into the DSSAT suite.”

Over eight months, Woli input an incredible amount of data and calibrated the model parameters for evaluation. Woli  “tinkered” with the equations and codes to create the new DSSAT forage model, Rouquette said.

Rouquette said around 30 growing seasons of winter wheat forage trial results data and 74 years of weather data from Overton and Henderson were used to calibrate and evaluate the forage wheat model.

“We have a lot of history of small grain plantings for forage from Dr. Nelson’s variety trials here in Overton,” Rouquette said. “The field data ensure simulations are accurate and verifiable based on realistic conditions producers face season to season.”

The forage wheat model was used by the researchers to study winter wheat biomass responses to nitrogen, as influenced by two soil types. One was Lilbert, a sandy loam soil with more organic matter and water-holding capacity. Another was Darco, a sandy soil with low organic matter and water-holding capacity. Three planting dates were set between September and December and the ENSO – El Niño, La Niña and neutral –  weather patterns, Woli said.

“By changing production factors, a model can simulate thousands of scenarios in minutes or hours compared to decades of field trials,” he said. “This is significant for forage production because it tells us what the variabilities mean in the form of biomass for livestock. It’s significant to researchers because until now we have only had the option of knowing what the outcome was under natural climate conditions each growing season.”

Of the various factors studied, Rouquette said nitrogen played the most important role in biomass production.

“If you’re not fertilizing in the Southern U.S., you’re not growing,” he said. “The ENSO was not a significant factor for winter wheat forage production in this region because wheat is drought tolerant and a cool-season forage that isn’t very susceptible to drought.”

For instance, the simulation results showed winter wheat biomass was optimized at 120 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per acre on the Lilbert soil, whereas the Darco soil required 240 pounds of nitrogen per acre, Rouquette said.

Rouquette said the research was focused on modeling winter wheat forage production for various scenarios without consideration of whether management calibrations, such as nitrogen and irrigation, were cost-effective or prohibitive. However, he noted, forage modeling with market conditions and input cost calibrations also considered could be possible in the future to help guide producer decision-making from season to season.

Woli and Rouquette are excited about the model and its continued application and improvement within the global DSSAT community, which includes thousands of scientists from more than 160 countries involved in modeling for a wide range of crops.

“You have to know something about the soil type, its fertility, the typical water availability and temperature when growing anything from winter wheat to tomatoes and pecans,” Woli said. “Those are the controlling factors. The model simulations let us look at the efficiency of all the factors while trying to maximize the biomass of forage winter wheat, but we hope to expand their use to other forage crops with other calibrations.”

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 11:39 by Sonja Begemann

Declining bee populations have topped news for several years. While there are many factors that lead to bee death, and questions around what causes colony collapse, scientists have discovered how to build resistance against disease in bee DNA.

PrimeBEE fights severe microbial diseases and is the first vaccine for honey bees and other pollinators. It was invented by Dalial Freitak and Heli Salmela at University of Helsinki. It works when the queen bees eat something with the PrimeBEE pathogen which is then carried into the queen’s eggs to induce future immune responses.

The vaccine targets American foulbrood, a bacterial disease that is the most widespread bee brood disease. While the vaccine is tested in labs, others are working to launch a commercial business to get the product to beekeepers. Sara Kangaspeska, head of innovation at Helsinki Innovation Services, is leading the business launch.

“Commercialization has been a target for the project from the beginning,” Kangaspeska said in a recent press release. “PrimeBEE is a great example of an innovation maturing towards a true commercial seed ready to be spun-out from the university soon.”

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 14:58 by Steve Cubbage

The go-to, not-to-miss Christmas gift and standard-issue stocking stuffer for a farmer is still a fresh copy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

The almanac has been published since 1792, and it sells 3 million copies per year. It is nothing short of amazing in this day and age of high-tech weather satellites and Doppler radar that farmers still tend to put so much stock in a publication that has been making weather predictions much the same way since the late 1700s.

But let’s face it. Mother Nature is a fickle lady, and she can still make the most seasoned modern-day weather forecasters look like fools.

There is vast room for improvement in weather data and weather modeling. Until recently, the task of understanding and forecasting the weather in this country defaulted to government agencies such as the National Weather Service (NWS) and NASA. On the private side, you’ve got established players such as Weather Underground and The Weather Channel, which are now part of IBM. Meanwhile, companies such as DTN had pioneered weather forecasting services specifically for farmers and the agriculture industry.

But as site-specific precision agriculture technologies continue to evolve, it is clear if hyped-up tech such as big data, artificial intelligence and smart farms are truly going to work, then weather at the most basic and granular level has to get much better. It needs to be delivered in the right format, at the right place and at the right time.

Think of the consequences of the lack of localized weather. An example is choosing the next year’s hot hybrids from yield data without knowing that the seed company’s racehorse hybrid only won because a spotty shower in July just happened to hit the two fields where it was planted. That’s the epitome of knowing enough to be dangerous.

The use cases for better real-time weather at the farm gate are becoming more real every day. Early-warning systems that predict the likelihood of dicamba herbicide drift before it actually happens are examples. What if future forecasts could be tied into grain bin monitoring systems that would calculate optimal drying times and simultaneously optimize energy usage? Another example is real-time monitoring of the potential spread of specific pests and disease based on minute-by-minute changes in the weather pattern. How much better would tomorrow’s nitrogen models and fungicide applications work when mixed with better weather information?

The business of weather is changing, and a ton of investment money is fostering some very innovative companies for us in ag to keep eyes on in 2019 and beyond.One of the most unique young companies is Boston-based ClimaCell, which was formed by three Israeli military veterans who somehow reunited while pursuing graduate degrees at MIT and Harvard. As veterans, they knew how much weather can impact military ops, so this trio felt that together they could do better than the NWS. Their solution extracts weather data from cellular networks and combines those data with historical and traditional weather data along with feeds from a host of other sensors. It is no secret that weather can greatly affect cellular performance. This company just harnessed that knowledge into a software to create hyperlocal, minute-by-minute forecasts called “nowcasting.”

Then, you have a startup such as Understory, a company out of Madison, Wis., that pins its enhanced forecasting prowess more on hardware than just software alone. The company manufactures modernized weather stations called RTis—short for real time instruments—which monitor hail, wind, rain, temperature, pressure and humidity at ground-level every second of every day. The field-level proof of concept was enough to convince Monsanto to sign on as a key investor in 2016.  

Another company that is a little more established but still relatively new to the weather scene is a Denver-based company called aWhere. This diverse environmental intelligence company processes more than 7 billion data points every day to create a complete global ag weather offering that is hyperlocal and claims to be highly accurate. The business offers field-specific, scientifically vetted agronomic models to drive decision-making by automatically identifying plant growth stages, maturity tracking and harvest readiness, pest and disease likelihood and crop stress.

Whether it is these companies or others such as Weather Analytics, Riskpulse, TempoQuest, Earth Networks or startups yet to come, agriculture is emerging as one of the main targets. So the Old Farmer’s Almanac better watch out because come Christmas 2019, the preferred weather-related gift could be replaced with a high-tech option! 

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 14:56 by Margy Eckelkamp

Its origin is in Spain using a model that partners closely with academic research, and with the closing of the first allotment in its latest round of $6.9 million dollars in Series B funding, PlantResponse Biotech will open a new headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Investors in the Series B round include Yara Germinate, iSelect, Bayer Ventures, Middleland Capital, and Novozymes.

“Our company is uniquely positioned to source technologies to bring more options to growers as they tackle stresses in the field,” says Tom Snipes, CEO of PlantResponse Biotech.

The company has yet to commercialize products in the U.S., but its pipeline includes products for plant health, stress mitigation, and nutrient management. All products are biological in origin or use natural chemistries. Snipes says they are in the final stages of regulatory approval for their first products, and the company aims to sell its first products in the U.S. in 2019.

The company is charting its distribution via ag retail. Tom Warner, who was previously with Nutrien Ag Solutions, has been named the company’s chairman of the board.

“Our appointment of Tom Warner says a lot about our commitment to ag retail,” Snipes says. “Our entire team has deep roots in retail. And we think that speaks volume of the value we see in the channel.”

The company is current seeking retail partners in the U.S. and Canada. He sees their retail partners as helping to identify the geographic and crop markets.

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 14:36 by Sara Brown

On 1,000 acres in northwest Missouri, rolling fields filled with flowers and butterflies are the backdrop of a booming technology revolution on hog farms across the country. Acres of native pastures are just one part of Smithfield’s sustainability efforts to turn hog manure into biogas energy to heat homes across the country and further environmental sustainability goals at the same time.

These goals might seem to be at odds with each other. But for several years, Smithfield Foods has been partnering with Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE) at nine locations in northwest Missouri to capture methane gas from hog lagoons to create renewable natural gas.

Venn Diagram with fields_web


In 2017, Smithfield, along with several of its contract farmers, spearheaded a pilot program known as Optima KV in North Carolina. Optima KV uses five anaerobic digesters to capture and clean biogas collected from in-ground digesters and is then transported to a central facility to be converted into renewable natural gas (RNG).

Both efforts are part of Smithfield Renewables, a platform announced in October 2017 to help meet the company’s goal of carbon reduction and renewable energy efforts. Specifically, their goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025. One year later, Smithfield announced, through the nationwide expansion of Smithfield Renewables, innovative projects to help the company meet this goal. This includes expanding projects in Missouri and North Carolina as well as implementing new projects in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah. Smithfield will continue its work with RAE in Missouri and has formed a partnership with Dominion Energy that focuses on the other three states.

“We’ve been working on manure to energy projects for 20 years plus,” says Kraig Westerbeek, director of Smithfield Renewables. “These are very complicated projects. We believe the technology has come along and, at the same time, the market for renewable energy has come along as well. This is the right time for these projects to start to make sense.”


Technology Meets the Farm Biogas Supply in Missouri

Covering hog lagoons has been a practice at some Smithfield-owned farms in Missouri for over 10 years, as the industry has evolved to mitigate rainfall water from manure containment facilities, says Blake Boxley, Smithfield Hog Farms’ director of environmental sustainability.

“We get a lot of rainfall in northern Missouri and rainfall impacts our business. Whatever goes into our lagoons, we have to land-apply back out,” he says. In a wet year, some farms in the state could get up to 70” of rain.

The solution at the time was large high-density polyethylene (HDPE) lagoon covers with clean and dirty water separation. It also helped create an opportunity for biogas capture.

Initially, the gases captured were burned off, but bioenergy technology has quickly caught up. In 2014, Smithfield partnered with Rudi Roeslein, founder of Roeslein Alternative Energy to create renewable energy projects from the biogas trapped under the covers.

“Generating energy from manure, prairie or other biomass is pretty simple,” Roeslein says. “In an anaerobic digester or a covered lagoon, where anaerobic digestion takes place, solids are broken down to release methane gas that is transported to a central processing facility to be converted into RNG.”

How Biogas Capture Works

On farms in Missouri, biogas is pulled from covered lagoons and pumped or “blown” into a central cleaning station on the farm. The methane gas is cleaned, separating methane from other elements to meet Department of Energy specifications. At three sites, it is injected directly into a natural gas pipeline. At farms farther from the pipeline and those waiting for transfer lines to be installed, the gas is hauled by trailer.

Since the RAE project began, Smithfield has installed biogas capture equipment on about half of their 88
grow-finish hog lagoon sites in the state. Plans for the remaining sites will be completed within the next two years.


Continue reading: A Different Approach in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah