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Shark Tank Eyes Hottest Agriculture Technology

This article was originally published at Farm Journal AgTech.

Want to peek behind the curtain at tomorrow’s hottest farming technology? Look no further than agriculture’s shark tank.

Pedal to the floor and tires smoking, AgLaunch provided a lively shark tank-type forum for 15 vanguard technologies covering all facets of agriculture on March 2 in Memphis, Tenn. Steered by Pete Nelson, AgLaunch president, 15 burgeoning companies offered a glimpse of the best and brightest new tech headed to farmland.

“The foundation of our program is connecting early-stage agtech companies with farmers to help inform product development and become engaged in the scale up of the company and farmers get a tangible benefit in being a partner in the company,” said Pete Nelson, president and executive director of AgLaunch. “All of the companies that presented are part of the AgLaunch portfolio and are being considered for further investment and are participating in field trials this summer with assistance from Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s pilot cost share program.”

The innovations were presented to two panels composed of producers from the AgLaunch Farmer Network, Innova Memphis investment group, and agriculture industry professionals. In order of appearance:

Persistence Data Mining (PDM) is a replacement for grid soil sampling and lab sample processing. PDM utilizes UAVs and hyperspectral imaging. PDM president and ninth-generation producer Penny Nagel says grid soil sampling doesn’t compare to the speed and efficiency of PDM: “We’re wasting money with excessive fertilizer. Persistence data mining provides more data sets per acre, enabling farmers to make much better decisions. It’s so much faster and everything is done right in the field.”

Hintech Ag’s Decimator can chew through corn stubble and save producers tremendous dollars in tire replacement and downtime, according to Ted Hinton, certified crop advisor and president of Hintech Ag.

Hintech Ag’s solution is the bolt-on Decimator, which splinters stalks and extracts root balls. A large, metal-veined cylinder containing a solid cylinder, the Decimator traps corn stubble between the veins and inner cylinder creating a crush point to destroy or dislodge the stalk. “It’s highly effective in mitigating tire damage, extracting root balls and enhancing residue decomposition,” Hinton says.

Stable’N is a highly economical nitrogen stabilizer using an electrical field to treat soil. Designed by southeastern Illinois producer Bryan Tomm, Stable’N was a finalist for the 2017 Tulane Nitrogen Reduction Challenge’s $1 million grand prize. “I knew we could control the bacterial process with electricity and be cheaper and more effective,” he says.

Stable’N can be applied as a retrofit to fertilizer equipment and bolts on to the coulters, Tomm explains: “Including equipment costs, it’s about $1 per acre.”

Newton RFID’s EquipassID offers immediate access to mandatory and vital horse records via a microchip. The instant information enables a horse owner or veterinarian to eliminate the paper trail during transfers or travel. “EquipassID is entirely digitized, and allows management of vital health information and indemnification documents,” explains Mark Johnson, president of Newton RFID.

EquipassID is energized by a reader that wakes up the device to add or extract information. “All data can be updated with smartphone app,” Johnson adds.

Global AgSmarte’s SmarteRoot treats irrigation water with radio frequency to make it more soluble and absorbable. Water treated by SmarteRoot leads to larger root mass, greater overall plant growth and higher yield, according to Global AgSmarte representative Justin Tomlinson: “We use multiple frequencies and directly inject our radio frequency so we have maximum efficiency.”

“SmarteRoot goes with any type irrigation system. The technology can increase nutrient uptake and foliage, build stress resistance, and increase yield from 10% to 20%,” Tomlinson concludes.

AgriSync is a collaboration platform between farmers and industry advisors to diminish down time, reduce costs of service, and scale expertise. Free for farmers, AgriSync centralizes immediate support, real-time video, alerts and more.

“AgriSync is a free, simple-to-use tool for farmers to get the best support and collaboration from the experts they work with every day,” says cofounder Jerrod Westfahl.

Rantizo is a cutting-edge technology delivering chemicals precisely where needed using an electrostatic sprayer via UAV application. A different paradigm from traditional spraying, UAVs are loaded with cartridges only containing the active chemical ingredient. “This sprayer charges the liquid and that leads to even, low-levels of coating, as low as 1 oz. per acre,” says Michael Ott, cofounder of Rantizo.

“This can revolutionize spraying,” Ott adds. “We can mount a low payload on a drone and spot-spray a field. The wrap-around also has the benefit that spray sticks to leaves and doesn’t go to ground, water or a neighbor’s field.”

Skycision combines drone and satellite imagery to specify exact areas of crop stress. Skycision CEO Brendan Carroll says specialty crop growers lose 3-4% of yield each year to undetected pests or disease: “Skycision can save them 50% of the loss. Infestations happen to everyone, but our technology let’s a grower react before pest of disease loss can spread and have a cataclysmic impact.”

AgHelp addresses labor shortages and logistical issues with a digital platform aimed at collaboration and communication. Ivan Paredes, AgHelp representative, says the system is mutually beneficial to both farmers and hired workers: “It’s a big benefit for farm employers to source workers nationally and this is cheaper than posting an advertisement. This is streamlined for everyone. A farm worker can travel freely knowing where a job is located. AgHelp will be more effective than anything on the market.”

SwineTech’s SmartGuard targets millions of piglets accidentally crushed by mother sows each year. A monitor protects piglets by listening for the squeal frequency emitted by a trapped piglet, and delivers a mild shock to the sow via a wearable adhesive, causing the sow to stand. “About 22.5 billion pounds of is lost each year,” explains SwineTech founder Matthew Rooda. “This pops the momma to get up with about two-fifths the strength of a dog collar shock, and is like a Fitbit for pigs.”

MicroBiometer moves the soil testing from the lab to the smartphone. The device allows a producer or advisor to estimate microbial biomass in 10 minutes for a tenth of typical lab costs, according to Judith Fitzpatrick, founder of MicroBiometer. Results can be read with a smartphone or tablet app. “For $15 you can tell if you’re improving your soil and check the results with a cellphone,” Fitzpatrick says. “MicroBiometer is soil health in the palm of your hand.”

HarvestYield is digitally simplifying custom application and harvesting at all levels with software that eliminates paperwork through a web- and mobile-based application that covers activity from dispatching to invoicing. “We focus exclusively on custom farming and we’re changing the entire process to make it so much easier for everyone involved,” says Juan Figuera, cofounder of HarvestYield.

Kilimo is a digital accounting system for water and decision support tool for irrigation management. Using satellite, climate and on-site data, Kilimo feeds a proprietary big data engine to create an irrigation prescription for each crop, improving yields up to 3% and water use efficiency up to 70%, according to Jairo Trad, CEO of Kilimo. “We know how much water you have initially, and then we measure everything, including how much you use, along with weather data,” Kilimo explains. “We show up twice during the season to show you our ratings are correct. No sensors are involved.”

Rabbit Tractors weigh only a quarter as much as normal-sized tractors and operate in autonomous swarms. A simple design utilizes widely available parts as components come apart in light sections, enabling farmers to fix equipment in the field, according to Zack James, founder of Rabbit Tractors. “Running three units instead of one is a better business model and provides far more versatility. In addition, better use of precision technology requires smaller equipment and that’s what we’ve got,” he notes.

EarthSense places herbicide resistance in the crosshairs of autonomous rovers that attack weeds with non-chemical weapons. Weighing less than 30 lbs., fully automated rovers are capable of traveling below the canopy for weed removal and crop scouting. “This is an ultralight, autonomous weed killer and we’re testing different types of cutting blades. It will be capable of staying in the field for the entire crop season,” says Chinmay Soman, cofounder of EarthSense.

And the Winner is…

Rantizo spray technology received top ranking from the judge’s panel, followed by a tie for second place between EarthSense and Kilimo. For more information, see AgLaunch.