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Ag Industry Brief: AgBiome Scores Gates Foundation Grant, EU Agrifood Accelerator Launches, Alphabet Considers Food Delivery, more

December 9, 2016

AgBiome Scores Grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded AgBiome, a biological and trait products crop protection company, a new multi-year grant that will fund the evaluation and development of lead, proprietary biological fungicides in the fields of African smallholder farmers. The aim of the project, entitled Broad-Spectrum Biological Control of Fungal Diseases, is to identify and validate biological fungicides to control one or more of three major crop diseases of importance in Sub-Saharan Africa: sorghum anthracnose, black Sigatoka in banana, and aflatoxin contamination in maize. Fungal diseases result in massive losses for African farmers yearly, and currently available solutions are limited in their effectiveness or add significant, unrealistic costs of implementation. Biological control of these diseases is a promising solution in many areas, generally affording growers no risk of exposure to synthetic pesticides and potentially offering season-long control through inoculation of host plants.

Google’s Parent Company Alphabet Considers Launch into Food Delivery

Alphabet is rumored to be contemplating the launch of a new endeavor called Wing Marketplace that would offer food delivery services using drones, according to The Wall Street Journal. So far, Alphabet execs have sat down with Whole Foods and Domino’s Pizza to feel out potential partnerships. The delivery fee would cost consumers $6 a pop. The endeavor is an offshoot of Alphabet’s Project Wing maintained by its moonshot division referred to as X.

KATANA Business Accelerator has $1.26m to Spend on Agrifood Startups

The EU-funded accelerator KATANA is searching for ambitious entrepreneurs and startups innovating for agrifood, ICT, and emerging industries like eco-industries, mobile services, and personalized health. The best 100 applicants will receive €2k while the best 10 teams will received €100k each. The purpose of KATANA is to identify those ideas with the greatest potential in agriculture and ICT sectors focusing on trends such as GPS, Internet of Things or Big Data. Selected beneficiaries will also receive in-kind business services worth €20k.

St. Louis County Unveils New Name for Agtech District and Funding

St. Louis County’s Plant Science Innovation District has a new name: 39 North. The title comes from the latitude along which the center lies. Covering some 600 acres in Creve Coeur, 39 North will include the region’s top agtech and science companies, including big names like Monsanto, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, BRDG Park, and more. 39 North also received a $400,000 grant from Great Rivers Greenway to fund the new effort.

Organic Valley Claims Itself Largest Producer of Organic 100% Grass-fed Dairy

America’s largest organic farmer cooperative Organic Valley announced 12 new 100% grass-fed dairies in the Mid-Atlantic region to increase its production of grass-fed milk products. According to the company, this makes it the largest producer of organic, 100% grass-fed dairy in the US. The 12 new Organic Valley Grassmilk dairy farmers are located across Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and are connected with an existing milk route winding between the states from Myerstown, PA, to Dayton, VA. With Organic Valley’s regional model, milk is produced, bottled and distributed right in the region where it is farmed to cut down on the miles it travels.

Center for Science in the Public Interest Petitions USDA to Put Cancer Warning Label on Processed Meats

Public interest group Center for Science in the Public Interest wants the USDA to require processed meat products to bear a label warning shoppers that the products may cause cancer. According to its recently-filed petition, “scientific research has led to the conclusion that processed meat and poultry increases the risk of colorectal cancer.” Much of CSPI’s conclusion is based on the World Health Organization’s decision to place processed meat goods on its cancer list in October 2015. Many industry stakeholders have fired back against CSPI saying that it acts as the food police and eschew the WHO move as lacking appropriate specifics, especially when it comes to the quantity of processed meat a person must consume to realize the alleged carcinogenic impact.

Pres-Elect Trump Slated to Hold Roundtable with Tech Leaders Next Week

US president-to-be is rumored to be setting a roundtable summit with tech leaders in New York City next week, according to The Verge and other sources. Some of the rumored attendees include Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins and Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz. The invitations are coming from three folks: Peter Thiel, Trump’s son-in-law and Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, and Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff. Considering that Trump has spent many tweets targeting tech companies for sending jobs overseas or for refusing to loosen security measures to aid police investigations, the meeting could be a bit tense.

Arcturus Announces 25,000-Sq Ft LED-Based Vertical Farming Project

In partnership with CBO Financial, Arcturus Growthstar Technologies is constructing a 25,000-square foot LED-based vertical farming facility in Baltimore, Maryland. The duo will lease the commercial shell space from Volunteers of America Chesapeake (VOAC). The farm will be co-located in a residential reentry center, which helps ex-offenders re-enter society and the workforce after serving federal prison sentences. The farm will provide job training and therapeutic opportunities for VOAC’s residents. 

Other News That’s Fit to Chew

  • ICYMI: Major poultry producer, Pilgrim’s Pride, is making a run at the organic market with its recent $350 million purchase of GNP Company, a rival organic poultry producer, on Business Insider.
  • School meal programs are turning to innovation to improve nutrition and meet healthier food standards, says The PEW Charitable Trusts.
  • Beijing may be on the verge of importing something more than US soybeans—an entire Iowa-style farm, on NY Times.
  • The name of the agtech game is consolidation, says Iowa Farmer Today.
  • Washington State is suing Monsanto over PCB damages and cleanup costs, reports Reuters.

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