Ag Industry Brief, Amber Agriculture Wins Best Startup At CES, Agribotix Partners with SenseFly, Larta Wins SBA Tibbetts Award, more

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Amber Agriculture Named ‘Best Startup’ at CES by Engadget

Illinois-based startup Amber Agriculture, a startup that automates farmers’ grain storage through wireless sensors and internet of things technology, was award Best Startup at the recent CES event held by tech publication Engadget. The company, which originated at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has developed connected devices to assist farmers with managing internal grain conditions, like humidity and temperature. From their smartphone, farmers can control a smart fan in the bins to keep these metrics regulated. Ultimately, the technology is designed to help cut down the amount of waste that plagues stored crops due to spoilage from poor climate conditions in storage bins.

Agribotix Partners with SenseFly 

Agribotix, a drone-enabled agricultural intelligence company, has partnered with senseFly, a leading producer of professional fixed-wing drones, to adopt the eBee SQ as its new fixed-wing drone platform. The eBee SQ is built around Parrot’s Sequoia sensor. This features multispectral sensors that capture calibrated data across four highly distinct spectral bands (near-infrared, red-edge, red and green), plus RGB imagery, in a single flight.

Indigo Cotton Produces 11% Yield Increase in Commercial Trials

Indigo Agriculture, a microbiome seed company, has released preliminary data from its first commercial product, Indigo Cotton. Launched in the spring of 2016 on approximately 50k acres across multiple states, Indigo Cotton was developed to help increase water use efficiency, with the goal of improving yields when plants are growing under water stress. According to the company, data collected to date show that Indigo Cotton led to an 11% average yield increase in West Texas. The state has experienced moderate to severe water stress this growing season. Despite this, yield improvements were achieved without increased water or chemical use. The most successful combination of seed type and microbial treatment achieved a peak performance above 15%.  

Larta Institute Wins SBA Tibbetts Award

Larta Institute, a Los Angeles-based accelerator for technologies and host of the annual Ag Innovation Showcase, was awarded the prestigious SBA Tibbetts Award for its work assisting SBIR/STTR-funded companies in commercializing their innovations. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research(STTR) grant programs represent the U.S Federal government’s investments in cutting-edge research by small businesses and intended for commercial use. Since 2005, 66 of Larta’s ‘portfolio’ companies have been acquired, and the organization has tracked $2.6 billion of private investment raised by companies participating in its program.

Dairy Groups Support Milk Labeling Standards

Should almond, soy, and plant-based dairy alternatives be labeled as milk? That’s the burning question taking Congress and the dairy industry by storm early in 2017. A new bill proposed by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) called the Dairy Pride Act would mean all non-dairy products would have to bear their own distinct label and could no longer be labeled as milk, cheese, or yogurt. According to the legislators and farmers backing the bill, the legislation would protect the integrity of food standards by prompting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enforce existing labeling requirements, specifying foods labeled as “milk” and “cheese” have to come from dairy animals. The Baldwin bill would require FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of these definitions within 90 days. It also would require FDA to report to Congress two years after the bill’s enactment to hold the agency accountable for this update in their enforcement obligations.

New FDA Rules Regulating Antibiotic Use in Livestock Take Effect

The New Year brought about a new set of FDA regulations governing the use of some antibiotics in livestock production. In the livestock industry, many producers provide their animals with sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth. The majority of the antibiotics administered are also used to treat human diseases. Under the new rule, antibiotics that are classified as “medically important” to human medicine can no longer be administered mainly for growth promotion. These medicines can only be administered to food animals to treat disease under the supervision of a veterinarian. Whether these rules will curb the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs is now the key question. Read more here.

USDA Approves New Transitional Certification Program to Boost Organic Growth

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) announced this week a new partnership with the USDA to help farmers transition into certified organic agricultural production. Using standards developed by OTA, the National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP) will provide oversight to approved Accredited Organic Certifying Agents offering transitional certification to producers. This will help ease the transition process to organic, allow farmers to sell their products as certified transitional at a premium price, and help encourage more organic production. Transitioning to organic production requires a three-year period during which the producer must follow organic production practices, but is unable to label products as organic.

McDonald’s to Sell 80% of Its Businesses in China & Hong Kong

US private equity firm Carlyle group and China’s government-backed investment group Citic are taking over 80% of McDonald’s holdings in China and Hong Kong. Currently, the major fast food outlet owns and operates roughly 65% of the 2k stores it operates in China. The move towards more franchising allows McDonald’s to keep earning profits while streamlining overhead and operational expenses. In spring 2015, the company announced that it was looking for partnerships to create over 1.5k new stores in Korea, Hong Kong, and China over the next 5 years. Other reports indicate that Yum Brands, McDonald’s big competitor and owner of Pizza Hut and KFC, are giving their business interests in China a makeover.

TerrAvion and Servi-Tech Partner 

TerrAvion, which takes aerial images for agribusinesses, is partnering with Servi-Tech to offer more growers across the country aerial imagery with NVDI, thermal and natural color images. Every week, TerrAvion takes hundreds of low-altitude flights to capture bird’s-eye views of farms and then uploads the images to the cloud so growers can plan scouting, management activities and interventions with unprecedented accuracy. Servi-Tech is one of the largest independent crop consulting and agronomic services company in the nation, providing agronomic services to over 1,900 producers across seven states, and its crop consulting division has over 1.1 million acres under contract. Servi-Tech’s laboratories analyze soil, water, feed and fertilizers and consult with growers on issues around soil fertility, disease and insect control, irrigation and data management.

Poultry Lobby Objects to Calls for Slower-Growing Chickens

A few days before the New Year, restaurant chain Panera Bread announced a new commitment to sourcing slow-growing chickens, demanding that its suppliers offer up new product by 2024. The chain also asked suppliers to provide enhancements to poultry living conditions and to reduce stock density. It also denounced live-shackling as a method of slaughter and will require controlled atmosphere stunning instead. Major food product and service provider Sodexo has announced a similar shift toward slow-growing birds. In a report released earlier this week, the National Chicken Council contended that a transition to slower-growing birds would be costlier and less profitable overall. The report claimed that using birds requiring an additional two weeks to reach maturity would lead to more animal waste and that feed requirements would skyrocket. Although the debate over whether broilers grow too fast is nothing new, Panera Bread and Sodexo have fired the first shot across the bow when it comes to major food companies enforcing a new standard.

Other News That’s Fit to Chew:

  • Civil Eats reports on a potential new grassfed dairy label.
  • Keurig is releasing an alcoholic k-cup for its infamous single use beverage machine, reports FoodDIVE.
  • Food delivery startup Munchery made some serious cuts to its staff and parted ways with its founders, reports Bloomberg.
  • Modern Farmer serves up some of the biggest farm crime stories from 2016.
  • Sonoma County winegrowers have established the Center for Ag Sustainability to foster the county’s goal of reaching 100% sustainability in its wine industry, on North Bay Business Journal.
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