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November 28, 2023
A robot that “swims” through grain bins and monitors temperature and moisture.
A bolus that tracks the health of a dairy cow, starting at calf age.
A portable leaf scanner that can tell you everything your plant needs.
While none of these won the $1 million grand prize at this year’s Grow NY Food and Agriculture Competition, they are examples of the types of cutting-edge tech that’s already making its way onto farms.
This was the fifth year of the Grow NY competition, which is open to agribusiness startups less than 7 years old. They compete for top prizes, mentorship and an initial business foothold in a large part of the state.
The competition started earlier this year with 323 applicants from 49 countries and 32 states, including 81 from New York state. A panel of judges whittled the applicants down to 20 finalists — 10 ag tech companies and 10 food companies. Each team was also assigned a mentor. The finalists then presented final pitches at the Grow NY Summit in Binghamton.
It was a banner year for the ag tech companies, winning five of the seven awards and the Audience Choice Award. But standing on top with the $1 million grand prize was Hypercell Technologies of Peachtree Corners, Ga., which has developed a technology that can identify and manage biological contaminants in the food chain.
Here’s some other intriguing tech that was pitched and could come to a farm near you:
Robotic grain “swimmer.” Crover of Edinburgh, Scotland, one of two $500,000 winners, has developed a robot that can move — “swim” — inside a grain storage to measure bulk, monitor temperature and moisture, and more.
Lorenzo Conti, managing director, developed the system, he says, to address issues that can lead to grain loss, and also to make monitoring grain safer. The information measured from the robot goes directly to an app where a user can see what’s going in the grain bin without having to go into it.
“So, you can access all the data on mobile, and there you can visualize maps and see all the data in a visual format,” Conti says.
Right now, the robot is driven by a remote control, but Conti says the company is working on an entirely automated robot where it would freely do scans on its own without any human intervention.
Temperature and moisture are the big parameters being tracked by the robot, but Conti says the goal is to add capabilities that would measure carbon dioxide, as well as a sensor to measure mycotoxins.
With the $500,000 award, Conti says he will use the money to start a more permanent business in upstate New York.
High-tech cow bolus. Cattle Scan, a company from Ontario, Canada, has come up with a bolus that is placed in a cow’s rumen to track temperature, water intake, rumination, heat detection and more.
It won one of four $250,000 awards.
“It sends a signal out to the cloud, and from that cloud we have proprietary algorithms that can tell us about feed efficiency, that can tell us about water intake, early sickness, based off temperature, based on time and the animal. A bunch of the metrics go together, and they’ll lead to different results,” says Peter Brand, key account lead for the company. “So, it’s really creating an awareness to the farmer well in advance of when he’ll actually see any kind of change with his animals.”
COW BOLUS: The Cattle Scan cattle monitoring bolus allows dairy farmers to monitor their cows’ health in real time.
The bolus has been on the market for two years in Canada, he says, and they have recently finished an install on a New York dairy. On that dairy, within 24 hours of install, Brand says the farmer got alerts from the system indicating that something was wrong. As a result, the cow was checked and treated.
“Day 1 was just our best-selling feature right there,” Brand says with a laugh.
Why get a bolus? Brand says some dairies are ready to move on from wearables, which may not be cost-effective, or practical, for some dairies. “Things like ear tags can easily get pulled out,” he says. “With the bolus, it is in the animal for life, starting when the animal is a calf.”
Brand says the company will use the money to expand in the state and beyond.
Portable leaf scanner. Not every company that presented got a cash award, but that doesn’t mean the technology was less intriguing.
Take, for example, Leafspec, a company founded by Jian Jin, an associate professor at Purdue University.
He and his lab mates at Purdue have developed a hand-held hyperspectral leaf scanner that, within seconds, can provide information on things such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels in the plant; moisture; and stressors and diseases.
“The point of this product is to provide more accurate measurements of the nitrogen or phosphorus or potassium nutrient deficiency symptoms so it can tell people … exactly how much to fertilize,” Jin says. “The sensor can also detect disease symptoms earlier than the human eye itself.”
Jin helped develop the technology in 2016 at the university. Since then, he and others have worked on its accuracy and practical use on farms. The first device was developed specifically for corn, but other scanners have been developed for rice and wheat, and the corn device has been modified to also do sorghum.
It works by taking the device and sliding a plant into the scanner. Once scanning is done, within three seconds the image is processed and sent to a mobile device.
Another robotic version of the scanner has also been developed. It works via robot attached to a drone, he says, and is designed for large farms with thousands of acres.
Here’s how it works: A drone is programmed to go to multiple locations on a farm to get samples. The drone flies out to each preprogrammed location where an attached robot takes 3D images, and an arm holds a leaf and takes a scan. Antennas on the fully automated drone allow it to upload images to the cloud.
Jin says he envisions the company making money in a couple of ways: by selling the scanners themselves to farms, or by selling its scanning capabilities as a service where a third party would come out and do the scans.
“We are really proud of this tech because this is the first time, we believe, we can provide precise enough sensor information for farmers to really trust the quality and use this information to make decisions," he says. "By combining the quality, spatial resolution and spectral resolution, we can develop the new AI algorithms to process all those signals and give us the best signal.”
$1 million: Hypercell Technologies
$250,000: Mush Foods
$250,000: Clean Label Solution LLC
$250,000: Cattle Scan
$10,000 Audience Choice Award: Big Yield Growers
• Empire State Development, a branch of the state government, provides funding for Grow NY through three programs: Finger Lakes Forward, CNY Rising and Southern Tier Soaring. Funding for the program has been extended to 2026.
• Cornell University and the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech are partners in the program.
• To be eligible for the competition, companies must be a registered, formative-stage business that meets two or more of the following criteria: less than seven years from date of formal organization; has its first product or service in testing or pilot production; is pre-revenue or early revenue; has a leadership team working toward commercialization and profitability.
• Award winners must materially locate and maintain a presence on an ongoing basis within the Grow NY Region — Finger Lakes, Central New York and Southern Tier — for at least 12 straight months starting within three months of winning the award.
Editor, American Agriculturist
Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.
Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.
"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."
Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.
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