AGCO, Nutrien select finalists for Innovation Challenges

Selected from over 100 entries, AGCO and Nutrien have each chosen three start-ups for their Innovation Challenges. The six start-ups will pitch their ideas during the virtual World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit on March 10, 2021. 

The AGCO Challenge

AGCO is looking for new sensing, edge computing, and modeling technologies to gather data from above and below ground that will unlock new insights about soil properties that affect crops and provide insight into the potential of carbon sequestration.

“We want to better understand the soil environment and improve our ability to understand that soil environment, so we can shed light on carbon sequestration potential,” says Seth Crawford, vice president, Fuse Connected Services & Digital Customer Experience, AGCO Corporation. “That allows our customers to better act on that overall insight, so we can really bring this to light. Today we can measure yield. What we want to be able to do is measure the yield activities and what that means for our carbon footprint.”

From there, he says the customer is going to want to know what their return on investment is. “How do we deliver it in a reliable, easy-to-use manner for the farmer in their day-to-day business? This is something that is being added on top of their current activity,” Crawford says. “Any solution is more likely to be adopted if it’s easy to implement into a farmer’s current system.”

Because a farmer makes multiple passes across a field in a year, how can we sense what is going on in the soil by potentially adding technology to a piece of equipment. “Beyond that, how can we quantify the soil health from the existing data a farmer has or do we come up with a separate measuring tool? These are all potential areas to look at,” he says.

AGCO has chosen the following three start-ups to pitch their solutions.

Cloud Agronomics. This company monitors agricultural production and verifies sustainability metrics using AI and remote sensing. It offers high-resolution soil organic carbon and crop nutrient measurements at a global scale, enabling its partners to improve soil health, boost productivity, and unlock farmland as a carbon sink.

EarthOptics. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, EarthOptics specializes in AI, machine learning, edge computing, and using highly-mobile, standoff sensors to detect, visualize, and mitigate soil compaction that reduces crop yield by 10% to 20%. Using its electromagnetic sensor know-how, deep machine learning expertise, and unique subterranean visualization tools, EarthOptics is also focused on scalable measurement and monitoring of soil carbon.

SmartCloudFarming. Using satellite imagery and advanced machine learning, this start-up creates advanced soil analytics solutions, which provide an indicator for regenerative agriculture based on soil organic carbon (SOC). It assesses SOC up to 30 cm deep, with one measurement every 30 meters.

The Nutrien Challenge

Nutrien is looking for crop input technologies that improve nitrogen use efficiency, increase soil carbon, and improve water use efficiency. Soil health has always been a focus for the company, says Matt Marshall, adding that it really drives a lot of what Nutrien has as far as products and services today and is a major focus going forward. 

“Being good stewards of the land and investing in soil is critical to preserving and growing long-term productivity. Obviously, the carbon side of the equation and the soil’s natural ability to sequester carbon is really critical,” says Marshall, senior director, corporate strategy, Nutrien. “This is elevating the opportunity of production ag to be a leading source of a nature-based climate solution to address global carbon emissions. It’s exciting to put a front-footed slant to the industry around carbon generally.”

But he adds that it’s not just about carbon. “It’s also about the benefits of healthy soil microbiomes, which can improve productivity and make crops more resilient to stress as well.

“At Nutrien, we are uniquely positioned around soil in general,” Marshall says. “Our Waypoint Analytical business – which is the largest ag laboratory group in the U.S. – and full suite of proprietary products are focused holistically on soil and plant health to really hit this challenge head on.”

In terms of carbon, he says Nutrien is immersed in this area right now. “The launch of our carbon program is reflective of that,” he says. “But I should also note that when we think about carbon, it’s not just soil carbon sequestration. It’s also about GHG emissions reduction through optimization of nitrogen fertilizer use. The practices and inputs that are proven to drive positive carbon outcomes like no-till will, in large part, have positive ROIs.”

The company really sees the development of both voluntary and compliance-based carbon markets as being the key drivers for large-scale adoption. This is really where a grower can monetize their carbon performance in the form of carbon credit. 

Nutrien’s expectation is that the voluntary compliance markets will continue to gain momentum with demand for credits increasing significantly from a variety of different potential buyers, which supports a higher carbon price and rationalizes the practice of adoption, and it also also rationalizes the cost of credit creation itself, which today is not insignificant.

“We have a way to go before we see a scalable, robust market,” Marshall says. “It is certainly a huge opportunity and the breadth of practices and what we can do for our customers to help drive those outcomes is really quite exciting.”

Always in search of new technologies that help farmers feed a growing world while focusing on carbon efficiency, soil health, and environmental sustainability, Nutrien has chosen the following three start-ups as finalists for its challenge.

CoteX Technologies. Based in Canada, this company is developing a unique method of manufacturing low-cost, controlled-release polymer-coated fertilizers. The company’s proprietary coating technology can apply any polymer to a wide range of substrates in a high-speed continuous process. 

BPS Agriculture. This start-up has developed a proprietary, aqueous-based supramolecular host chemistry. The first-of-its-kind delivery system consists of naturally occurring silica that has a stable coulombic attraction force and powers Augere, a nutrient enhancer. Augere is a universal solution that, when mixed with a grower’s fertility program, will form supramolecular structures increasing the stability and localization of nutrition.

Soil Carbon Co. This company is working with some of the world’s smallest organisms to solve the world’s biggest problem. Its microbial seed treatments rapidly increase stable carbon in soil.

You can watch each start-up present live on March 10, 2021, during the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit and see who is named the winner for each challenge.

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