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Industry-in-Brief: USDA Visits Cuba with Obama, Philips Lights Up Indoor Ag in Space, Mars Labels GMO Food, more

March 25, 2016

POTUS Makes Historic Trip To Cuba with USDA’s Vilsack

This week President Obama made a historic two-day trip to Cuba flanked by some agriculture industry members. The President’s trip is part of his goal to promote trade relationships with the country, which imports roughly 80 percent of its food and comprises a $2 billion annual market. Business opportunities in Cuba will slowly increase, with Starwood Hotels already announcing that it will manage hotels in Cuba making it the first US hotel chain to land on the island in six years. But further investment will be limited for the time being as Congress is still in the process of lifting the embargo against Cuba, a process that could be drawn out with Obama leaving office this year.

During the trip, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA will allow the 22 industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba. These groups represent US beef, pork, corn soy and other commodities and are responsible for creating bonds with consumers and businesses around the world in support of US agriculture. Secretary Vilsack called the announcement “a significant step forward in strengthening our bond and broadening agricultural trade between the United States and Cuba.”

Water Innovation Accelerator Imagine H2O Announces Challenge Winners

Imagine H2O, a water innovation accelerator, announced the winners of its 2016 Water Data Challenge. Ten data-driven water businesses were selected from a global field of 90 startups in 20 countries to participate in IH2O’s 7th annual innovation program. Winning teams will participate in IH2O’s business accelerator, benefitting from cash awards, mentorship, industry exposure, as well as introductions to customers and investors. The Challenge’s winner was California-based Ceres Imaging, a breakthrough aerial imaging solution for agriculture. Offering a proprietary imaging technology and analytics platform, Ceres helps farmers manage water stress and fertilizer application decisions. Jerusalem-based Ayyeka, a modular remote monitoring solution for water infrastructure, and Washington-based Apana, a commercial water use management and detection platform, were runners-up.

Philips Lighting Teams Up with CEAC to Grow Food in Space

Philips Lighting has teamed up with The University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) to test energy efficient ways to grow food in space using indoor lunar greenhouses. The 9-week study found that replacing water-cooled high-pressure sodium (HPS) systems with energy efficient Philips LED lighting in a prototype lunar greenhouse resulted in an increased amount of edible lettuce with drastically improved operational efficiency and use of resources. According to the study, lunar greenhouses equipped with Philips LED modules provided the light needed to produce the same amount of indoor crops with 56 percent energy savings. LED modules can be placed closer to the plants resulting in uniform light distribution and more predictable yield throughout the greenhouse. Findings from the study can be applied to farming techniques on Earth, in urban farming and places where there is a shortage of water and fertile land.

IoT analytics company mnubo Partners with AGCO’s GSI

mnubo, an IoT analytics company, is partnering with GSI, a global brand of AGCO, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of grain and protein agribusiness solutions. This partnership will propel GSI’s protein technology solutions to enable data-driven decision-making for producers. mnubo’s insights and a suite of analytics libraries are designed to allow GSI to provide its customers with increased value, accelerating their time-to-insight and ultimately realizing immediate ROI.

Agribotix Launches Panama Drones Collaboration

Agribotix, a Colorado-based drone ag intelligence company, is working with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to show growers the benefits of using precision agriculture technology tools. Operating through Agribotix LatAm, the collaborative effort will help farmers respond to new environmental challenges and the program aims to identify best practices for using drones effectively under Panama’s agro-ecological conditions and to accelerate adoption of the technology. The guidelines will be disseminated later by IICA throughout Panama and to the 34 member countries, stretching from Canada to Argentina.

Gulf of Mexico Fishing Approval Faces Industry Complaints

The Obama Administration’s approval of large-scale fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico is facing a legal snare. In January, the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, the Gulf Fisherman’s Association and, at least, nine other organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s regulation of commercial ocean fishing under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This statute authorizes the federal government to oversee fishery management. The plaintiffs allege that the agency’s approval of using floating pens to confine fish in federal waters is considerably different from its approval of allowing fishing vessels in the same waters. The group alleges that NOAA lacked authority under the act to authorize the commercial fishing in the Gulf and that it failed to consider the unique economic and ecological concerns it raises. NOAA has until April 7 to respond to the complaint, which you can read here.

Mars Joins General Mills & Campbell’s in GMO Labeling Effort

International candy company Mars announced that it will start labeling products that contain GMO ingredients with the statement “Partially produced with genetic engineering” on the back of the package. Although the company made the announcement this week, it started printing the new GMO labels early last month when it launched its 75th-anniversary commemorative packaging.

Broiler Producer Wayne Farms Withdraws IPO Registration

Wayne Farms Inc, an Oakwood, Ga.-based producer and processor of broiler chickens, has formally withdrawn registration for an IPO that was targeting $250 million at a $1 billion valuation. Citigroup and BMO Capital Markets had been serving as lead underwriters. Wayne Farms is currently owned by Continental Grain Company.

Bengaluru Food E-Commerce Companies Scramble in Wake of Plastic Ban

Food e-commerce companies are a hot trend in India, with residents turning to mobile apps to tap in their orders at an increasing rate. A leading e-grocer BigBasket this week raised $150 million in Series D funding. But the Bengaluru state government’s recent ban on plastic bags and containers is causing disarray for startups in the space. CEO Rejesh Nair told the Deccan Chronicle that such a quick transition to a plastic-free platform has created a major problem for startups that purchase their plasticware in bulk. “We are a new entrant in the market and to have received such a ban when we have already made big purchases and have huge stocks, makes it very difficult to manage,” he said. Read the rest of the article here.

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