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Drones to be Used to Side-Step “Ag Gag” Laws, Photographing Animal Cruelty
Drones to be Used to Side-Step “Ag Gag” Laws, Photographing Animal Cruelty

HeavyConnect Joins 500 Startups, Google Starts Testing Drone Delivery, GMO Labeling Signed into Law, more

August 8, 2016

AgFunder’s Mid-Year 2016 AgTech Investment Report is Live!

Last week, we released our Mid-Year 2016 AgTech Investing Report tracking $1.75 billion of venture investment in food and agriculture technology across 307 deals in the first half of the year.Investment by funding dollars declined 20% year-over-year, largely following the global venture capital markets, which fell 14% during the same period. Unlike the broader VC market, however, we recorded an uptick in deal activity and active investors in the sector. Find out about the categories and investors shaping the market. We’ve also added sections for new funds, accelerators, and M&A during the period. Download the 65-page report here.

500 Startups Selects Salinas AgTech company for Upcoming Accelerator Program

A Salinas agtech startup has been selected to participate in 500 Startups next cohort. HeavyConnect, a farm management mobile platform, is one of 46 companies for the multi-sector global startup accelerator’s Batch 18. The mobile app helps farmers make their work day more efficient by centralizing information about employee time logs, field reports, and tractor locations. The company’s founder, Patrick Zelaya, is a former John Deere sales manager who launched the company in early 2015. The app is currently available as a limited release with 15 companies like Dole, Driscoll’s, and Fresh Express using it as a resource. The three major produce providers have been helping HeavyConnect tailor the app’s interface and outputs. 500 Startups will provide a $125,000 seed investment and take 5 percent equity in the company. This is the first dose of capital for the company, but it did win $25,000 in a hackathon hosted by Cabrillo College in the Monterey Bay region.

Satellite Imagery Company TerrAvion Partners with Major Farm Co-op CHS

Aerial imaging and real-time data provider TerrAvion has partnered with agribusiness company and farmer cooperative CHS Inc. The California-based startup will offer its services to producer customers within CHS, particularly in the Great Plains region where CHS boasts many farmer, rancher, and cooperative members. According to the companies, the partnership will result in TerrAvion doubling its weekly acreage to nearly 10 million in the Great Plains region. Founded in 2013, the company provides real-time aerial imagery services using low-altitude flights to provide scouting, management, and crisis intervention support. CHS is one of the largest farmer cooperatives in the U.S., providing services for every stage of crop production, from lending money for equipment, to agronomy consulting, to processing and merchandising.

Biotech companies evocatal and aevotis merge to form evoxx technologies

Following the acquisition of aevotis by evocatal in January 2015, the two are now legally merged and operating as evoxx technologies with the goal of becoming a leading provider of innovative enzyme and carbohydrate products for the food market (nutritional health & wellness). evoxx technologies will use its competitive enzyme and carbohydrate development expertise in applications where high sugar content (sucrose, glucose, fructose, etc.) and/or inadequate amount of dietary fiber requires a solution. Notwithstanding the new market focus, evoxx will ensure continuity in cooperative projects with customers and partners. The proprietary technology platform of evocatal and aevotis will still be applied by evoxx technologies to develop tailor-made enzymes and processes for various industries. evoxx technologies plans to enhance production capability to supply enzymes on an industrial scale for current and future customers.

AgriMetis Announces New Top Leadership

Ag chemical research and development company AgriMetis has added Steven Tuttle as CEO to the company, who has more than 25 years of experience in global ag business. Philip Goelet, Ph.D., a co-founder and founding CEO of AgriMetis, has been named Chairman of the Board. Philip follows the initial leadership of Derek Norman of Syngenta Ventures, who has served as chairman since the formation of AgriMetis. The company’s mission is to innovate sustainable crop protection products through leading-edge and advanced discovery, development and methods. Launched in March 2014, the company has raised $10 million in a Series A financing.

Google Gets Greenlight to Test Drone Delivery in the US, White House Funds Drone Research

Project Wing, the brainchild of Google’s sister company X, an R&D facility under Alphabet, received approval from US regulators to begin testing drone-powered delivery services. This follows the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s grant of approval to e-commerce rival Amazon to test its drone delivery program in the UK last week. Also this week, the White House announced an initiative to spend $35 million over the next five years on UAV research, which will be geared toward increasing design, control and application of UAV technologies. Physical structure monitoring, disaster response, agriculture monitoring, and severe storm surveillance are a few specific jobs the White House has in mind for UAV devices.

Obama Signs National GMO Labeling Law, Consumer Groups Bash the Bill, VT Backs Down

Late last Sunday, President Barack Obama signed into law Congress’ mandatory GMO labeling legislation. Without skipping a beat, labeling advocates who criticize the measure as unsatisfactory and half-hearted began ramping up pressure on companies to make voluntary disclosures about the GMO ingredients in their products instead of waiting until the bills regulations are written and enacted in 2018. Organic dairy Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg noted in a letter to major food companies that other big names like Mars, Campbell’s, and Dannon have already made such disclosures on their labels. Nearly half a million consumers signed a campaign from the Organic Consumers Association committing to forgo buying products that bear QR codes; the SmartLabel solution worked into the legislation designed to provide consumers with more information if they scan the code with their smartphone. Many have shunned this measure finding it exclusionary toward folks who can’t afford smartphones or who do not know how to use SmartLabel technology.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, State Attorney General William Sorrell released a statement indicating that the state has ceased enforcement of its mandatory labeling measure. In the statement, Sorrell indicated overall approval that Congress took action to address consumers’ demand for biotech disclosures, but expressed his opinion that the QR codes and electronic labeling aren’t up to snuff. “It is unfortunate that corporate interests were ultimately able to water down Vermont’s clear disclosure standard through the passage of this federal law,” he penned. “My office intends to take an active role as the labeling fight shifts from the legislative process in Congress to the regulatory process at the USDA. We will work hard to give consumers the same access to information, in plain English, that they had under Vermont’s law.”

Major Poultry Producer Sanderson Farms Launches Ad Campaign Defending Use of Antibiotics

While the GMO labeling battle wages on, one major poultry producer is taking a firm stance on another issue that has bubbled to the top of consumers’ shopping lists. Sanderson Farms, the third-largest poultry producer in the US, is running a new ad campaign defending its use of antibiotics in poultry production and describing other producers’ decisions to cease using sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics as a consumer “marketing gimmick” that can garner higher prices for the same products. The video advertisement features two men in the meat aisle at the supermarket discussing the differences between various poultry packages. According to CEO Joe Sanderson, the growing rise in concerns over antibiotic-resistant superbugs is exaggerated, and he sees little problem with the industry’s continued use of antibiotics to prevent illness and treat sick flocks. “There’s no reliable science that says by using these [government] approved antibiotics, that there is going to be any resistance,” Mr. Sanderson said in an interview on Wednesday. “We have a duty to take care of the animals.”

USDA Seeking Applications for Funding to Help Develop Advanced Biofuel Products

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the US Department of Agriculture is seeking applications for funding to help support the development of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products. “The bioeconomy is a catalyst for economic development in rural America, creating new jobs and providing new markets for farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said in a statement released earlier this week. “Investing in the businesses and technologies that support the production of biofuels and biobased products is not only good for farm incomes. The whole economy benefits from a more balanced, diversified and consumer-friendly energy portfolio, less dependence on foreign oil and reduced carbon emissions.” Funding is being provided through the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program, formerly known as the Biorefinery Assistance Program. Congress established the program in 2008 to encourage the development of biofuels that use renewable feedstocks. The 2014 Farm Bill expanded the program to include renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturing. The program now provides loan guarantees of up to $250 million to develop, construct and retrofit commercial-scale biorefineries and to develop renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturing facilities.

USDA Announces $36.5 Million for Specialty Crop Research and Extension Investments

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has unveiled 19 grants totaling $36.5 million for research and extension to support American farmers growing fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops including floriculture. The grants are funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. “America’s specialty crop farmers face many challenges ranging from a changing climate to increasing production costs. Investing in cutting edge research helps uncover solutions to keep their operations viable and ensures Americans have access to safe, affordable and diverse food options,” said Vilsack in a statement announcing the grants. “The universities, state departments of agriculture and trade associations that partner with USDA address challenges at the national and local levels to help sustain all parts of America’s food and agriculture system, whether the farms are small or large, conventional or organic.”

Trimble Establishes New Agriculture Business Solutions Group

Trimble has established a dedicated Business Solutions group within its Agriculture Division to support the most complex needs of agricultural leaders. The Trimble Agriculture Business Solutions group will provide customers with technology integration across their business and data solutions with the aim of helping them to improve operational efficiencies and enhance decision-making throughout the value chain. Agriculture customers are adopting technology solutions in multiple areas of their business including agronomic, logistics, operational, financial and mobile technologies. The Agriculture Business Solutions group combines portfolios from Agri-Data, the Connected Farm solution, Farm Works Software solution, Cengea Ag and Iron Solutions, key components for the major ag retailer that will be linked,

India’s #GotanIdea Challenge Accepting Applications

Startups that are at an early traction stage, within 6 months of starting up, have not raised money and are with scalable and global impact ideas in Ag-Tech SaaS, Livestock Biometrics, Agriculture Robots (AgBots), Agri Supply chain/Logistics, Agri-marketing, Dip Irrigation, Fish Farming, Soil Technology, Dairy & Dairy Products are eligible to participate in this challenge. Interested startups should click here to apply for a chance to pitch for a seed investment as large as INR 25 Lakhs.

Sen. Chuck Schumer Wants the FDA to Overhaul its Food Safety Recall System

New York Senator Chuck Schumer is making waves with recent calls for a complete reform of the US Food and Drug Administration’s food safety recall system. The democratic senator wants a top-to-bottom review of the agency’s process for identifying dangerous foodborne illnesses and initiating recalls to prevent the public from becoming ill. “Delays in getting bad food off store shelves is just a recipe for disaster,” Schumer said in a targeted press release last Sunday. “That’s why the FDA must come to the table with a healthy, new plan, detailing how they will revamp and execute a reformed food recall process. One that gets potentially contaminated food off the shelves before Americans risk getting sick, not after.”

Other News That’s Fit to Chew:

  • Former Hampton Creek employees claim that the plant-based retailer may have ordered employees to buy back the product to artificially boost sales data and spike demand, on Bloomberg.
  • PowerBar is undergoing a complete brand makeover complete with new “clean” product ingredients to meet millennial demand, on BevNet.
  • A new study revealed that a surprisingly high percentage of students in the California State University System are food insecure, on NewsWise.
  • Mega poultry producer Tyson has appointed Tim Madigan as its first-time vice president of e-commerce, a new capacity the company created to help the company oversee the growing trend toward digital retail, on FoodDive.
  • Go behind the scenes in the multi-year effort to revamp the FDA’s nutrition facts panel, on Fast Company.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is offering $14 million in grants for states and cities to keep better records regarding antibiotic resistance. Read more here.
  • Whole meal replacement drink maker Soylent penned a blog post advocating for GMO ingredients entitled “Proudly Made with GMOs.”
  • SABMiller has hit the breaks on its merger with AB InBev after questions arose regarding pricing following the pound’s recent tumble, on Bloomberg. AB InBev has raised its offer by one pound per share, bringing the total deal to $104 billion.

Have news or tips? Email [email protected]

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