Building Tech Investment in Agriculture

By Sandy K. Johnson

St. Louis, an important agricultural hub in the Midwest, watched with dismay as ag tech innovators flocked to the West and East Coasts.

St. Louis was “not even on their map,” according to Vijay Chauhan, a corporate business development executive with BioSTL, a public-private partnership steering investment to the Midwest.

Chauhan describes his work as “building a magnet to attract cutting-edge ag innovation to the region.” Since 2014, 18 international companies from 12 countries have set up shop in St. Louis, bringing $108 million in investment and revenue and 215 direct and indirect jobs.

“We’re directly connecting our producers to the innovation, removing all the middlemen,” he said.

Chauhan sees farmers as “tinkerers always trying new ideas.” They are inundated with innovation, but not sure who to trust. That’s where BioSTL hopes to come in.

Some case studies:

  • A company in Ireland, MagGrow, developed a sprayer head that magnetizes chemicals like nitrogen and focuses 70% more application on the plant, thus reducing drift and waste.
  • Covercress, a derivation of pennycress, which would give farmers a “bonus” cash crop to grow between corn harvest and spring planting of soybeans. Covercress would be converted to oil and protein meal.
  • TerraSentia, which has created an all-terrain autonomous robot that creeps under the crop canopy at ground level – sort of like a Roomba for fields. It records sophisticated crop measurements, disease and pest threats, and builds a 3-D crop map, all in real time.
  • Trace Genomics, which takes a soil sample and extracts the DNA and sequences it – like you’d do with a stool test. Using big data, the company creates actionable insights to help farmers make smarter decisions and, thus, see higher yields.
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