Emerging Technologies from Ag Tech Firms Enhance Soil Health

Emerging technologies featured on the second day of the 2018 Ag Biotech Summit focused on soil health included:

Plant Impact, with U.S. operations in Morrisville, North Carolina makes crop enhancement products, usually sprays or seed coatings based on researched, tested and regulated chemicals, including novel synthetic and small molecule chemistry.

Purchased by Croda Europe Limited in a deal expected to close March 28, the company’s products enhance crop health and yield by addressing their response to various stress situations, ranging from drought to short growing seasons.

Its Fortalis® product, a spray, helps growers maximize soybean yield by helping calcium move in the plant, producing more soybean pods per plant and bigger seeds. It is compatible with leading fungicides and insecticides.

“This product works,” said Mike Eade, North American communications director for the company, at the Summit. "It provides consistent yield results. That’s what growers are looking for. When they invest in a product, they want to get consistency.”

Keith Vodrazka Cool Planet
Keith Vodrazka of Cool Planet addressing the audience at
the 2018 Ag Biotech Summit

- - Courtesy of SP Murray Photography

Cool Planet, a Colorado-based company, makes an engineered biocarbon product with significant advantages over raw biochar when trying to add carbon to enhance soil.

Biochar is made from biomass such as wood, manure or crop residue via pyrolysis—heated to 700 degrees Centigrade with limited oxygen. “It is the solid skeleton left over from the biomass," said Keith Vodrazka, head of strategy, commercial, and technology alignment with Cool Planet. With many advantages over biochar, Cool Planet uses similar means to create its engineered biocarbon product.

The Cool Planet engineered biocarbon product creates an environment for microbial growth, builds lasting soil structure, increases nutrient retention in the root zone, and improves the environment by sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, said Vodrazka.

“We have a patented process for how we creat the biocarbon that makes a huge difference,” he added. The processing makes its performance consistent and allows it to be used immediately. Raw biochar has inconsistent properties and needs aging before it can be used.

In more than 100 independent field trials, Vodrazka said, the engineered biocarbon“showed a 10-15 percent average yield increase.”

Damian Shea Statera
Damian Shea, Ph.D. of Statera, LLC
- - Courtesy of SP Murray Photography

Statera, LLC is an eight-month old startup company funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It licenses its technology from North Carolina State University (NCSU) where it was developed by Damian Shea, Ph.D., and his team.

The technology, called anon-selective passive sampling device (ns-PSD), enables risk assessors involved with the EPA's Superfund program and other hazardous waste sites to gain critical information related to bioavailability, or the ability of a chemical to be taken up into animals and the human body. It also provides time-weighted averages of contaminant concentrations in surface waters. Risk assessors can then better understand and predict exposure rates and develop more accurate human health risk assessments.

Shea, a professor of environmental chemistry and toxicity at NCSU, pointed out at the Summit that there are 100 million chemicals on Earth today, most unknown and unregulated. About 100,000 are registered for use in the United States.

Of the 5,000 to 10,000 chemicals we are exposed to, we measure only a few hundred. We measure about 115 in drinking water. Statera’s solution? Novel sampling devices that provide high resolution chemical analysis up to 1,000 times more sensitive and 10 times less expensive than conventional sampling, said Shea.

The company has sold the devices to the EPA, Health Canada, and other clients.

Allan Maurer, NCBiotech Writer
Wed, 02/28/2018 - 11:45