USDA Backs Food and Agriculture Innovators with $12.5 Million Grants

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is channeling a total of $12.5 million into a collection of pioneering food and agriculture startups. This financial infusion is designed to drive advancements in sustainability and food safety across the industry. Seventy-six fledgling companies are set to benefit from the funding through the Small Business Innovation Research program and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Here’s a look at some of the startups that are set to receive funding and their innovative endeavors:

Glanris Water Systems: Enhancing Nutrient Uptake with Biochar

Tennessee-based start-up Glanris Water Systems is among the recipients of the USDA funding. The company’s focus lies in the development of biochar that can effectively absorb phosphates and nitrates from agricultural fertilizers. By employing a unique pyrolysis process on rice husks, Glanris produces biochar that gradually releases absorbed nutrients back into the soil. This approach not only bolsters crop yield but also curbs pollution by minimizing nutrient runoff.

Glanris aims to optimize biochar’s nutrient absorption capability by incorporating substances like iron oxide and calcium hydroxide. Chief Science Officer of the project Frank Brigano states, “We’re injecting innovation into the established use of biochar in agriculture, which has the potential to significantly improve nutrient management.”

Quorum Bio: Revolutionizing Soil Health with Engineered Microbes

Quorum Bio, another grant recipient, is pioneering an innovative strategy to tackle phosphorus pollution. Drawing on technology developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the start-up is engineering soil microbes to convert insoluble phosphorus forms into soluble ones, thus making them accessible to plants. This approach has the dual benefit of enhancing plant nutrition and decreasing reliance on synthetic fertilizers.

CEO of the company Sudharsan Dwaraknath emphasizes, “By tapping into the existing phosphorus reservoirs within the soil, we aim to reduce both the economic and environmental burden associated with fertilizers. This innovation has the potential to transform agricultural practices.”

RedNox: Curbing Emissions through Precision Sensors

Emerging from Ohio State University in 2021, RedNox is pioneering an approach to tackle greenhouse gas emissions attributed to nitrogen fertilizers. The start-up’s focus is on the development of small-scale sensors capable of measuring nitrous oxide and nitrogen oxides emissions. These emissions contribute not only to environmental concerns but also pose health risks.

RedNox’s sensors hold the potential to enable farmers to assess fertilizer levels and reduce unnecessary applications. This not only optimizes plant health but also contributes to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, these metrics could enable farmers to access carbon credits by demonstrating emission reductions.

Weaver Labs: Safeguarding Food from Contaminants

Weaver Labs, led by chemist Jimmie Weaver from Oklahoma State University, is dedicated to food safety. Having developed a material capable of filtering water and eliminating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the start-up is extending its expertise to protect animals and livestock from these contaminants. The company’s innovative approach could play a pivotal role in ensuring compliance with ever-stricter regulations concerning PFAS levels in food and water.

With US regulations intensifying focus on PFAS levels, Weaver Labs’ innovation could provide the agricultural sector with a powerful tool to ensure food safety and environmental responsibility. “We anticipate regulations to continue tightening, and our technology aims to enable the industry to stay ahead of these evolving standards,” notes Jimmie Weaver.

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