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Soy innovators bring new ideas to marketing, tech

Willie Vogt Close up of soybeans in field
FOCUS ON THE SOYBEAN: Innovation in the soybean market can come from many angles. The Soy Innovation Challenge had finalists dealing with everything from value for global markets to enhancing conservation practices.
The Soy Innovation Challenge was a highlight from the recent Commodity Classic. Learn more here about the finalists and the winner.

“There’s a disconnect between farmers and innovators,” says Keith Tapp, Tapp Family Farms, Sebree, Ky. “We want to bridge that gap. We’re focused on bringing value back to the farm gate.” Tapp is a past chair of the United Soybean Board, and was on hand during the recent virtual Commodity Classic to discuss innovation.

USB, Syngenta and Amazon Web Services sponsored the Soy Innovation Challenge, with an invitation on National Ag Day in 2020 to take part. The program received more than 90 applicants vying to be singled out for their work, and have access to $220,000 in cash prizes, as well as in-kind awards from Amazon Web Services.

From those 90 innovative ideas, Brandon Day, chief operating officer, Yield Lab Institute, shared that from the 90 entrants, seven finalists were chosen. Yield Lab Institute is a St. Louis-based think tank focused on ag tech.

During a whirlwind virtual session for the Classic, the seven finalists gave their seven-minute pitches, which is a common practice in the startup world. Here's a quick look at the seven finalists and what they bring to the table.

Ecosystems Services Market Consortium is a voluntary eco-services market. David Dayhoff, senior director, strategic business development and membership at ESMC, shares that the organization works with farmers to manage their land to raise more than wheat, beef and almonds, but also to sequester carbon and lower greenhouse gases.

ESMC is working to build a voluntary national market to pay farmers and ranchers for these ecosystem benefits, Dayhoff explains. The organization started at the Noble Research Institute and in 2019, became an independent organization. ESMC has a range of members, from General Mills to Tyson, from Growmark to Syngenta. “We’re working to develop scientifically rigorous protocols to identify quantified assets and credits that can be sold,” Dayhoff says. “Most ESMC members are working to reduce their supply chain environmental footprint.”

And that’s where the opportunity is; as those commercial players look at their supply chains they see potential offsets in agriculture. Learn more at ecosystemservicesmarket.org.

ReGrow is the new name for FluroSat, which merged with Dagan in 2020 to create the new business. Anastasia Volkova, CEO and founder, explains that the company has created a data-driven decision and support system for crop advisers to “supercharge their work.”

This group also works with a diverse range of customers and is monitoring crops on 10 million acres in 14 countries. They company's FluroSense engine is working to automate the process of capturing information from diverse sources, and then run crop and machine-learning models to proactively provide agronomic insights.

“It automatically monitors the crop,” Volkova says. “[The system] produces the report and provides it in an email, but also in a dashboard or management system.” Add in greater need for insight into the value chain, and having more detailed data available in real time has growing value, she says.

The key for ReGrow is automating the data collection and data sharing. Essentially ReGrow uses a simple application program interface to collect on-farm data, fills data gaps with satellite or other remote sensing imagery and weather data, and then works to capture profits for farmers. Learn more at regrow.ag.

Genesis Feed Technologies may be changing the conversation surrounding soybeans in the global market. So often the discussion is around protein content, but Peter Schott, CEO and co-founder, explains that the metabolizable energy in the soybean may have more value. “We’re trying to correct the perception on the market value of protein,” he says.

Working with the U.S. Soybean Export Council, Genesis has been working on pilot projects to help importers “make better buying decisions,” Schott notes. “We’re working to provide real-time intelligent market data.”

The key is to demonstrate that the energy and amino acids in soybeans have a more pronounced impact on animal performance than protein alone. The aim is to show that value and earn premiums for farmers in the United States. The company has developed the Nutrient Value Calculator. You can learn more at genesisfeedtech.com.

SLUcode is a startup that is growing out of the Geospatial Institute at St. Louis University. The aim is to work on ways to take unstructured data and pull it together to enhance agricultural innovations. Essentially, agriculture is filled with unstructured data — imagery, tissue tests and other information that's hard to pull into a single decision-making system. SLUcode is aiming to make that happen.

Vasat Sagan, a faculty director at the Geospatial Institute, explains that SLUcode is developing crop intelligence services for data collection, imagery analysis and cloud computing, and generating the ability to predict yield from early-season data.

He notes the vision is to improve crop yield and maximize profit by using predictive analytics of seed quality and environmental stress, and by turning “every pixel to actionable crop intelligence,” Sagan says.

The startup is working to develop a virtual constellation of remote sensing and imagery data that can be deployed in new ways to boost on-farm profits.

Soil Metrics is working to better understand greenhouse gas cycling in the soil, a key measure when working on tactics aimed at reducing emissions. Brad Justice, CEO for Soil Metrics, explains that the company is working on a comprehensive model to show the role of agriculture in the process.

“What is the relationship between practices and inputs and premiums and payments?” he asks. The role of the Soil Metrics work is to model that information to show how farm practices can make a difference.

Justice notes that the model is complex, and Soil Metrics is working to capture key information for the model. “And we will modify the model as we look at the adoption of new practices,” he says.

Developed at Colorado State University, Soil Metrics has the exclusive license to the model, its databases and other tools. The company is already working with companies and projects including the blockchain carbon marketplace, Nori. Learn more at soilmetrics.eco.

SCV is a collaboration among Rice University, the University of Akron, IdeaChem and Prairie Aquatech to explore soy carbohydrate value. George Bennett, co-founder, SCV, notes that in processing soybeans, crush plants get oil and protein, but the remainder includes 30% undigestible carbohydrates. “Our goal is to convert this fraction into valuable chemistry through microbial fermentation,” he says.

That undigestible carbohydrate fraction is waste product in soy processing, which leads to higher transportation costs for meal and has little current value. SCV has developed a process that turns those carbohydrates into value-added products that can be used in other processes. For the soybean processor, SCV is aiming for a bolt-on process to add value, and potentially raise the price paid for soybeans.

The New Fork wants to open more markets for soybeans by using blockchain to track key practices. Marieke de Ruyter de Wildt, The New Fork, notes that the fragmented supply chain does not communicate key data about how soybeans are raised. Pointing to the European Union, she notes only 6% of the global soy supply meets official European sourcing guidelines. But the demand for soy that can be tagged as “deforestation-free” is growing, and that phrase is a popular label for the EU market.

De Ruyter de Wildt notes there are growing opportunities for U.S. soybean exports to more markets, provided the product can be certified to meet those specific requirements. For example, less than 2% of U.S. soybeans are exported to the Netherlands. The New Fork wants to create what it calls Sustainable Open Soy using blockchain. The SOS platform would be “a free-for-farmers scalable blockchain that traces particular attributes of U.S.-grown soy to the end consumer market,” she says.

The aim is to automate the process for capturing those factors and recording them for transactions. You can learn more at thenewfork.com.

And the honors go to …

There were three Amazon Web Services in-kind awards — two with a $10,000 value, and one for $25,000. SLUcode and The New Fork captured the $10,000 AWS prizes. Soil Metrics earned the $25,000 AWS prize.

An additional $220,000 in cash prizes were awarded: Genesis Feed Technology got the $20,000 prize, Soil Metrics tagged the $40,000 prize, ESMC got the $60,000 cash prize, and ReGrow walked away with the top prize of $100,000.

You can learn more at unitedsoybean.org.

TAGS: Technology
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