Ag Industry Brief: AgLaunch Open for 2017 Applications, Hortau Appoints New Chairman, Farm491 Announces Awards, more

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AgLaunch Completes First Cycle, Now Accepting 2017 Program Applications

Memphis-based AgLaunch Accelerator announced this week that it had completed its inaugural 15-week accelerator program, with some successful results for its cohort including dairy tech company Cowlar, which will go on to take part in the coveted tech accelerator Y Combinator. And Secure Food Solutions was awarded a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop further its propriety technology to solve a global food safety issue. AgLaunch Accelerator is now accepting applications for its 2017 program. Applications will close March 1, 2017. The program begins on May 2 and culminates with a demo day on August 10, 2017. Teams will move to Memphis for the entire program to fully utilize all available resources.

Hortau Appoints IoT Expert Joseph Bradley as Chairman

Hortau, a precision irrigation company, has appointed Joseph Bradley as Chairman of its board. Bradley is also the president of Business Ventures at Uptake, a predictive analytics platform for the industrial sector. Previously, Bradley was the global head and chief business officer for IoT Works by HCL, and was the vice president of the Internet of Everything Practice for Cisco Consulting Services. A major proponent of IoT technology, Bradley brings a wealth of experience and thought leadership to Hortau and its IoT platform for agriculture, having spent three decades in the communications, service provider, software and technology industries. 

Farm491 Launches Agritech Innovation Awards

Farm491, an agritech innovation hub at the Royal Agricultural University in the UK, has announced the results of its first innovation awards. The Christmas Lunch and Awards Ceremony took place on December 6 at the Royal Agricultural University and was sponsored by Wynne-Jones IP. There were seven award categories, including innovation in land management, creating an innovative community, innovative online platform, innovative drone technology, innovation in equine data collection, innovative livestock monitoring, and innovation in energy renewal. To see who won each category, click here.

New Study Touts Benefits of Switchgrass for Topsoil Loss

The loss of fertile topsoil from agricultural fields is an economic problem for modern farmers. When runoff water washes topsoil from agricultural fields in areas with clay soils under the topsoil, including parts of Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas, farmers are often left with an exposed subsoil clay layer that creates difficult conditions for growing crops.

Now, a new study has found that farmers who have lost valuable topsoil can still be productive with their land by growing switchgrass. The study concluded that not only does switchgrass grow much better on clay than corn or soybeans, but it improves the soil on which it grows, opening the door for food crop growth in future years.

EPA Panel of Outside Experts Meets to Discuss Glyphosate

The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded in a 2015 report that the widely-used herbicide glyphosate, marketed under the name Round-Up, is carcinogenic to humans. In response, the EPA assembled a panel of experts from outside the agency to review its own recently-released findings concluding that glyphosate does not pose a risk of cancer to humans. This week, FIFRA’s Scientific Advisory Panel, consisting of experts from outside the EPA, held a meeting Arlington, VA, to consider and review the EPA’s research. At the meeting, EPA officials spent time explaining the methodology they used to conduct their research to the SAP, and members of the public were provided time to comment.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Presents Proposed Rule on New Traceability Program for Seafood

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a final rule creating a new traceability program called “Seafood Import Monitoring Program” for specific types of seafood that experience the highest rates of seafood fraud and unregulated fishing. The list encompasses 40% of seafood imports in the US by value. The new rule’s overarching goal is to cut down on the imports of products derived from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) practices. The new program’s mandatory compliance date for most of the priority species is currently set for January 1, 2018.

New $4m Effort Aims to Halt Honeybee Decline

General Mills is co-backing a new project with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Xerces Society that hopes to provide new habitat for pollinators on farms across the US. Spanning five years, the effort will provide farmers with technical assistance to plant and protect pollinator habitats like native wildflower field edges and flowering hedgerows. By 2021, the initiative hopes to have helped plant over 100k acres of pollinator habitat. Other benefits that may be derived from restoring lost pollinator habitat include improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, and new habitat for gamebirds and songbirds as well. “Two-thirds of the continental US is privately owned, making the land management decisions of America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners essential to pollinator health,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said in a recent statement about the partnership. “Agricultural producers can make relatively simple tweaks on working lands that benefit bees, butterflies, and other pollinators while improving the operation as a whole.”

Oxitec Preps for Medfly Field Trial to Protect Crops Against Pest Damage

The UK-based company that is genetically engineering pests to help fight crop damage and other ailments that consistently plague farmers’ fields and pocketbooks is ready to start open field trials. Oxitec reported successful results for its contained environment studies across multiple countries with its self-limiting Mediterranean fruit fly or Medfly. The bug is considered one of the world’s most destructive agricultural pests capable of causing billions of dollars in damage by attacking more than 250 types of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Oxitec was acquired by Intrexon earlier in 2015.

Good Karma Launches Dairy-Free Flaxmilk Yogurt

There’s another new dairy-free alternative coming to supermarket shelves: flaxmilk yogurt from Good Karma, which offers a flaxmilk product. The new yogurt line is free of major allergens like tree nuts, contains plant-based protein, and probiotics. According to FoodDIVE, the plant-based yogurt sector is seeking 50% annual growth, marking a rate that’s 10 times faster than other dairy-based yogurt products. The Boulder-based company’s new yogurt product will launch at Whole Foods locations nationwide.

Other News That’s Fit to Chew

  • The UK recently banned advertising of unhealthy foods to children. Here’s FoodDIVE’s take on how it could impact US producers.
  • Inc.com takes a look at how meal replacement products, or what it calls “fake food,” are attracting a slew of venture capital.
  • What will become the world’s largest robotic dairy is set to go online next year, reports Modern Farmer.
  • According to Reuters, a biotech firm in China planted a GM corn variety in a USDA greenhouse, making it one step closer to a US offering.
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