Ag Industry Brief: Walmart Buys into VR, Nestle Bets on AI with Nuritas, Florida Citrus Growers Get Some Relief, more

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Florida Citrus Growers Finally Receive Disaster Aid

Hurricane Irma dealt a heavy blow to Florida’s citrus industry, where orange production is down by 35% relative to last year from the one-two punch of hurricanes and the pervasive citrus-greening disease. The harvest season has been cut short across the state due to a lack of fruit as the industry wraps up its smallest orange crop in more than 75 years. Following the spending and disaster-aid package that Congress passed early this morning, which included approval for $2.3 billion in assistance for crop damages, growers hope to begin recovery. Read more. (Read about the agtech startups working to help Florida citrus growers here.)

Nestlé and Nuritas Collaborate on Using AI to Derive Bioactive Peptides from Food

Food-derived bioactive peptides – a protein fragment thought to have a positive impact on body function and health – are the subject of a new research partnership between Nestlé and Nuritas, a company that uses AI and genomics to research the proteins. The collaboration will explore how to derive bioactive peptides exclusively from natural food sources. The announcement follows Nestlé’s decision to sell its U.S. confectionary brands. Read more.

Walmart Acquires Virtual Reality Startup Spatialand for Undisclosed Amount

With an eye towards the future of virtual and brick-and-mortar shopping, Walmart purchased Spatialand, a company that builds virtual reality software designed to alter existing content into an immersive experience. Spatialand is currently working with Store No. 8, Walmart’s tech incubator to develop retail technology with hopes to help the brand compete with Amazon. Read more.

VividGro Acquires WeGrow App for Undisclosed Amount

Hardware and software for the cannabis industry are coming under one roof. The LED-manufacturer VividGrow acquired WeGrow, a cannabis home-grow app that features a chatbot that delivers personal, on-demand advice about how best to grow. VividGrow’s president David Friedman described the future of his company as ‘crop-agnostic,’ eyeing a future for both technologies beyond the cannabis industry. Read more

US Bank Supports Danforth Plant Science Center with $20,000 Grant

The U.S. Bank Foundation awarded the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center a grant that the center hopes will benefit the region at large. The St. Louis-based independent institute is a hub for research in agtech and bioscience. The Danforth Center hosts an Ag Innovation Showcase that attracts investors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. Read more.

USDA Creates Farm Production and Conservation Business Center

The Trump administration inaugurated a new administrative agency to help manage the USDA’s relationship with information technology, an area where the agency has struggled to keep up.  Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue first announced the creation of a new agency in September, but new details emerged this week. Some administrative personnel from the existing FSA, RMA, and NRCS will staff the new business center. There is some concern about how oversight will operate and whether the new division will undercut existing programs. Read more.

Concentric Power Launches $100 Million Fund for Cogeneration and Microgrid Projects

The California company Concentric Power announced a new financing program to build infrastructures like cogeneration and microgrid systems. The company owns the equipment and charges for the power it generates rather than asking for large upfront investments. Concentric’s first two clients are food processors. Read more.

Future Food Asia Award Announces a Second Edition

With sponsorship from a range of public and private institutions, the Future Food Asia Award is back for its second year. The award recognizes agrifood tech startups across the Asia Pacific region, who will compete for a grand prize of $100,000 and four additional $50,000 grants. The application requires startups have a proof-of-concept. The final award event is scheduled for May 2018 in Singapore. Read more.

Autogrow Opens Virtual Community for Agtech

Autogrow, a company developing AI for indoor agriculture, announced a new tool for the agtech industry – a digital community intended to encourage collaboration and transparency in the space. “The industry is a fragmented hardware landscape with software and data technology being introduced into the mix. Our goal is to bring much of that together in an open platform,” said CTO Jeffrey Law. The virtual community provides users with access to Autogrow’s APIs and SDKs and will focus on bringing together tech, data, and plant science. Read more.

Kraft Heinz and DowDupont Latest to Leave Grocery Manufacturers Association

Kraft Heinz and the agrichemical producer DowDupont announced that they would not renew their memberships in the GMA this year, becoming the most recent companies to join the industry-wide exodus from the trade association. Few companies have been fully transparent about their decision to leave, but many agree that discord about how to manage changing consumer preferences has motivated the upset.   POLITICO reports that GMA staff exits are on the rise too, including high-ranking executives. Read more.

Other News That’s Fit to Chew

  • Blockchain might not be the food safety solution we’ve been hoping for, reports the New Food Economy.
  • Amazon Prime rolls out Whole Foods Delivery, Fortune has the details.
  • Fast Company introduces us to UK farmers using flowers as a low-tech pesticide alternative.
  • Selective breeding could reduce antibiotic use on poultry farms, according to Quartz.
  • NPR reports on the South African farmers struggling amidst an intense and enduring drought.
  • Thanks to SafeCatch Tuna, you don’t have to worry about mercury levels – the company has developed a technology to detect its presence. More in TechCrunch.
  • Genetic testing might be the latest health-and-wellness trend – Bloomberg looks at the companies exploring links between diet and DNA.
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