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Ag Industry Brief: USDA Votes to Allow Organic Certification for Hydroponics, Plenty Heads to Seattle, New Monsanto Partnership, more

November 3, 2017

USDA Votes to Allow Organic Certification for Hydroponic, Aquaponic Growers, But Not Aeroponics

The USDA’s National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) has ruled that hydroponic growers can continue to be certified organic in an 8-7 vote that has divided the indoor and outdoor farming communities. The 15-member board also rejected a motion to prohibit aquaponics, the system for farming fish and plants together in a mutually beneficial cycle. It did, however, approve a proposal to withhold the organic label — that demands premium pricing for produce — for aeroponics, where the roots of crops are not immersed into any medium but instead misted with water and nutrients. More here.

Plenty Announces Next Farm in Seattle Area

Plenty is putting the largest ever agtech round to use. Today the South San Francisco-based indoor agriculture company announced its next farm will be in Kent, WA. The 100,000 sq. ft. indoor vertical farm will open in mid-2018 and will represent Plenty’s first “full scale” farm, said CEO Matt Barnard in a press release. According to the same release, Plenty will start selling produce from its first farm in South San Francisco by the end of this year. The company is also looking to fill roughly 50 open positions.

Monsanto Signs Agreement with Sensor Company

Monsanto has signed an agreement with Two Pore Guys, a manufacturer for handheld diagnostic testing equipment. The agreement allows Monsanto to evaluate the performance of the new technology — which is a handheld, single-molecule digital biosensor — in both laboratories as well as in field conditions in detecting crops, pests, and pathogens. Two Pore Guys counts Khosla Ventures as an investor after raising Series A funding earlier this year. More here.

AgLaunch 365 Selects Startups for Accelerator 

Memphis-based agtech accelerator AgLaunch 365 has selected three startups to join its six-week program. The companies will receive investment from a key AgLaunch partner, Innova and its USDA-certified Rural Business Investment Company fund, a $31 million fund backed by eight Farm Credit banks. The selected starutps are:

  • DryMax, based in Minnesota, is commercializing a low-energy, low-heat radio wave process for drying grain.
  • EarthSense, based in Illinois, has developed TerraSentia, an ultra-compact, autonomous, easy-to-use robot with multiple sensors and embedded data collection and analytics software for plant phenotyping.
  • Rabbit Tractors, based in Indiana, is developing an autonomous, mobile, multi-purposed, swarm-capable and high-ground clearance farm production tractor for all pre-harvest activities.

Marrone Bio Receives EPA Approval for New Biofungicide

Marrone Bio, the ag biotech company, has received EPA approval to sell a new biofungicide called Stargus to help combat downy mildews and some while molds. The new fungicide brand will focus on specialty crops such as grapes and leafy greens, and can also be used on root and bulb vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and onions. The biofungicide product has been submitted to Canada and Mexico for approval and the dossier is being prepared for Europe, which has the largest market for grape downy mildew. In France, depending on the year, production of grapes has been estimated to be reduced by as much as 50% from downy mildew, according to a press release. More here.

WeFarm Wins Super Happiness Challenge

UK-headquartered farmer-to-farmer network WeFarm has won the startup track of The Super Happiness Challenge hosted by Project HeHa and partners Singularity University and Hong Kong-based Nest in San Francisco.  The Super Happiness Challenge called for ideas and social impact startups with a mission to create a happier world to compete for cash prizes. WeFarm uses AI technology to connect small-scale farmers to the information they need to work, grow and prosper together by enabling them to share and access vital information on anything from how to battle a disease to how to increase their income, through SMS or online. It has over 320,000 farmers registered so far. More here.

FarmStead Launches 30-Minute Grocery Pickup Hub

Farmstead, the AI-powered digital micro-grocer that sources and delivers food, has launched a new 30-minute Express Pickup service at strategically placed micro-hubs in San Francisco and San Mateo. Read more here.

Frutarom Acquires Israel’s Enzymotec

Frutarom, a large flavors and natural ingredients company, has acquired Enzymotec, an Israeli nutritional ingredients and medical foods technology company, for $210 million. Enzymotec, which was founded in 1998, has developed a unique technology for processing lipids that are an important nutritional element, supporting various biological functions. Read more here.

Other News That’s Fit to Chew

  • Small, organic growers are nervous about consolidation in the natural and organic retail space, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.
  • Restaurant marketplace and food delivery app Door Dash has launched a 2,000-square-foot commissary kitchen in Silicon Valley says Eater.
  • Mexican drug cartels have infiltrated the avocado market due in an effort to diversify their income streams according to Extra Crispy.
  • Paul McCartney, whose family promotes the Meat Free Monday Campaign has narrated a new documentary about Climate Change, according to Rolling Stone.

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