Down on the farm: Breakthroughs in Agtech will increase profits
“The farmers who succeed are the ones who are going to incorporate new technologies.” Stanford F. Blade, PhD. P. Ag.
35,000 FOOT VIEW
Tech that's making farming viable again
Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels
Five years ago, almost no one knew what agtech was. Today agtech is a phenomenon addressing ag needs through vertical farming to data science to farm drones, and it is hot in investor circles. Rest assured, flyover cities are all over it.
Rather than feeling threatened or turned off by the emergence of technology in their everyday life, the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City is helping farmers to embrace innovation as a way to become more profitable at a time when tariffs have risen and crop prices have declined.
The council's mission is to match investment money with innovations that help the farm economy in flyover country.
One such example is Aker Technologies, whose goal is to improve crop diagnostics through practical tools such as drones and other technological innovations. The company can provide a more accurate and in-depth survey of fields to monitor for disease, insects, and other problems than the standby practice of farmers walking the rows.
"In some cases we tell growers, 'Hey, you are wasting your money. You are using a product you should use less, or not use at all,'" Orlando Saez, the founder of Aker Technologies, told Fox 4 in Kansas City. “In other cases we tell the grower, 'You should use this product. This is really making a difference in your field.'”
Already, the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City has grown to include more than 300 individuals, businesses, and other organizations that have experience in the ag and food industries. Along with connecting investors with innovators, the council provides networking opportunities and a forum to hear from government officials and industry executives on a wide range of topics affecting the way both farmers and tech companies operate.
First came the Cortex innovation community—a dynamic 200-acre innovation hub in St. Louis, home to more than 400 tenants, including heavyweights like Microsoft and Boeing. Now comes 39 North, a 600-acre AgTech cluster, that’s “anchored by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, BRDG Park, the Helix Incubator, Bayer Crop Science, and the Yield Lab.”
The cluster seems like a perfect fit for the region. According to the 39 North website, 50% of US agriculture is produced within a 500-mile radius of St. Louis; the region boasts 100 bioscience companies and 1,000 plant science PhDs; and $1.3 billion in bioscience VC is under local management.
A Brookings Institution report said the St. Louis initiative is “distinguished by the fact that the region took a broad approach from the very beginning, with parallel strategies focused on every major area of need: capital, talent, facilities, and networks.”
A new vaccine for cattle disease
Image by Rene Hoegee from Pixabay
Researchers at Kansas State University and Iowa State University have developed a new vaccine delivery method for a blood-born parasite called anaplasmosis in cattle that could provide long-term protection from a single-dose implant.
The parasite, which is the most widespread tick-transmitted disease in cattle, is a massive headache for beef producers in the United States and abroad. But just as much of a headache is the commonly accepted strategy of providing feed or minerals that contain antiobiotics that are not only cumbersome to deliver but potentially harmful to both the animals and any humans that may ultimately eat the beef.
The new vaccine is delivered behind the ear and could potentially provide lifelong protection, said Hans Coetzee, a professor and head of the anatomy and physiology department at Kansas State's school of veterinary medicine. That in turn could help farmers avoid a potentially disastrous financial loss due to widespread parasites in their herds.
Iowa State currently holds the patent for the implant platform and the Kansas State-Manhattan Innovation Center is exploring a partnership to further develop the technology. It already has the support of the Iowa Livestock Health Advisory Council and faculty startup funding provided by Kansas State.
FLYOVER U RESEARCH
Regrowing spinal cord neurons after injury
Experimental research could regrow spinal cord neurons after injury.
Much research has been done to find ways to regenerate nerve fibers, called axons, after an injury, but a recent study between the National Institutes of Health and the Indiana University School of Medicine may be the first step in restoring movement on previously injured axons.
Results of a study performed in mice and published in Cell Metabolism suggest that increasing energy supply within these injured spinal cord nerves could help promote axon regrowth.
“We are the first to show that spinal cord injury results in an energy crisis that is intrinsically linked to the limited ability of damaged axons to regenerate,” said Zu-Hang Sheng, PhD, senior principal investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and a co-senior author of the study.
The Sheng lab collaborated with Xiao-Ming Xu, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the Indiana University School of Medicine, who are experts in modeling multiple types of spinal cord injury.
“Spinal cord injury is devastating, affecting patients, their families, and our society,” Xu said. “Although tremendous progress has been made in our scientific community, no effective treatments are available. There is definitely an urgent need for the development of new strategies for patients with spinal cord injury.”
Researchers also saw that the regrowth aided in functional recovery, such as fine motor tasks in mouse forelimbs and fingers.
University of Cincinnati gets nearly $1M for cybersecurity research
Protecting large cities and state infrastructures from cyberattacks is a growing concern. Just ask the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, both of which have recently undergone such attacks. In fact, a statewide emergency was declared for Louisiana as a result. The attacks are ongoing.
Because of the growing need to address cyberattacks, universities are developing curricula to intercept the problem head-on. The University of Cincinnati’s interdisciplinary cybersecurity program was launched in 2013 and UC is now one of only 18 universities in the country designated by the U.S. National Security Agency as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations and Cyber Defense.
The Ohio Department of Education recently awarded UC nearly $1M in grant money to fund additional cybersecurity research to help establish regional programming centers in Ohio as part of the Ohio Cyber Range Institute (OCRI).
“Improving our state’s cybersecurity measures, as well as investing in training our workforce for these in-demand careers, positions our state as a leader in the cybersecurity field,” Ohio governor Mike DeWine said in a press release.
The funding will allow UC to continue work already underway by the OCRI in addressing the state’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities, said Richard Harknett, chair of UC’s Department of Political Science and Center for Cyber Strategy and Policy and a prolific cybersecurity expert and former U.S. Cyber Command scholar-in-residence.
FUNDING THE FUTURE
Report: 2019 was record year for VC and deals in Indiana
Indy-based Elevate Ventures has released a report saying that last year, Indiana had more than 100 venture deals and over half a billion dollars in investments. Eleven of the deals were $10 million (or more), accounting for over 60% of investments for the year. The biggest deals were Kenzie Academy ($100M) and Inari Agriculture ($89M).
The report included seed, early, and later stage VC. Indiana accounted for .42% of national VC investments in 2019, up from .22% in 2018.
Chris LaMothe, CEO of Elevate Ventures, said the report was encouraging. “Indiana proves to be a significant player among regional and national venture capital activity, and we anticipate more success as we continue to support innovation and drive economic growth.”
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