AgLaunch March 2018 Newsletter


It has been quite the winter! AgLaunch has been running full-steam ahead for the last few months. From hosting a convening with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research about cropping systems of the future to recruiting and supporting new agtech teams, we’ve been busy.

As you know, we moved to year-round focused programming with AgLaunch365. We continue to work closely with Innova and their USDA RBIC AgInnovation Fund IV  to invest in innovative agtech companies. We had three teams join us in the fall to participate in Phase I, where they worked with our partners at StartCo. to conduct customer discovery and develop a viable business model. Participating teams were:

This culminated with a showcase at the Farm Journal AgTech Expo in Indianapolis. Read more about the teams that participated in the Expo here.

As 2018 kicked off, so did Phase II of our programming. Our teams began working with agronomists, farmers, and researchers to develop comprehensive, 3-year field trial plans to begin “ground-truthing” their technologies. Joining the cohort for this phase was Rantizo.

For the second year, AgLaunch hosted the StartUp Station as part of the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, the premier event for thousands of farmers to experience three floors of exhibits and to see the latest in farm equipment technology. The StartUp Station boasted fifteen of the most innovative agtech companies in the business right now. They pitched their ideas to a panel of expert farmers, industry leaders, and entrepreneurs.

As an additional benefit for the Phase II teams, they were able to connect with Congressman David Kustoff and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and share their technologies with them directly.

Moving into the spring, we are in field-trial mode. Our teams are working directly with farmers to test their technologies and collect meaningful data. New this year is a cost-share pilot project with Tennessee Department of Agriculture for Tennessee farmers trialing AgLaunch companies’ technology. Additionally, AgLaunch was awarded a $125,000 grant from Tennessee’s Agriculture Enterprise Fund to create model farms for innovation and research.

Repeatedly this winter, I have been asked to share our vision, our model, and our work with members of state legislatures and, in February, I even testified about how agtech can revitalize rural America before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy, and Trade. You can read my written testimony here.

We are extremely proud of the work we’ve done and how we’re growing. We want to thank Memphis  Bioworks and Tennessee Department of Agriculture for their continued support, and thank you for your role in building a truly transformational region and ag sector.

Kind Regards,


AgLaunch teams and partners with Sec. Perdue and Congressman Kustoff at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show

EarthSense’s robot makes an appearance at the Farm Journal AgTech Expo in Indianapolis, IN

Phase I teams at the Agricenter International fish fry in Memphis, TN

Pete Nelson addresses the US House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy, and Trade in Washington, DC

Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, AgLaunch, and TN Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton at the National Farm Bureau Convention in Nashville, TN

K-12 Ag Ed Roundtable group tours Germantown Farm Park in Memphis, TN

Scott Sartor of IndigoAg speaks at the Memphis Food & Ag Innovation Meetup


EQUIPMENT: Tractor-Hacking Farmers Are Leading a Revolt Against Big Tech’s Repair Monopolies
Kyle Schwarting is a farmer by trade, and a hacker by necessity. His farm, about 20 minutes outside the city limits of Lincoln, Nebraska, is full of tractors and agricultural equipment, which he picks up in various states of repair from fellow farmers, fixes up, and resells. “I would say what I’m doing is hacking,” Schwarting tells me, gesturing to a Windows laptop and a USB-to-tractor cable he Frankensteined himself. READ MORE

SPECIALTY CROPS: Dan Barber’s Seed Company Seeks to Sow the ‘Democratization of Flavor’
Chef Dan Barber loves heirloom produce. But, after cooking with it for years, the world-famous author and advocate for sustainable food says he realized that there was an important reason these delicate fruits and vegetables would probably never make it to the masses. READ MORE

POLITICS: Trump Pledges to Boost Farmers and Rural America
President Trump lays out his plan to boost agriculture and prosperity in rural America. What’s at stake is more than a hill of beans. LISTEN HERE

YOUNG FARMERS: A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm
Liz Whitehurst dabbled in several careers before she ended up here, crating fistfuls of fresh-cut arugula in the early-November chill. The hours were better at her nonprofit jobs. So were the benefits. But two years ago, the 32-year-old Whitehurst — who graduated from a liberal arts college and grew up in the Chicago suburbs — abandoned Washington for this three-acre farm in Upper Marlboro, Md. READ MORE

INNOVATION: How Driscoll’s Reinvented the Strawberry
One foggy May morning, the Joy Makers, a team of scientists employed by Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, gathered at its research-and-development campus, which is known as Cassin Ranch, in the small agricultural town of Watsonville, on California’s Central Coast. Before them was a table laden with plastic clamshells: red, white, and pink strawberries for the pipeline. Phil Stewart, an affably geeky, sandy-haired strawberry geneticist, offered me a yellowish-white specimen with rosy stains, like a skinned knee when the blood starts seeping through. READ MORE

NOTEWORTHY: This Tiny Country Feeds the World
In a potato field near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium, Dutch farmer Jacob van den Borne is seated in the cabin of an immense harvester before an instrument panel worthy of the starship Enterprise. From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. READ MORE

AGTECH & INVESTMENT: Ag venture capital: Here’s what investors are watching in 2018
Software, social media, and the latest wearable gadgets might be getting all the attention, but its the technological changes that are shaking up the agriculture market that are really going to change lives over the next decade. And it’s coming not a moment too soon. READ MORE

AGTECH & INVESTMENT: Will Bitcoin Work in Agriculture?
If you checked the Internet lately, you’ve probably seen the words Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain. I won’t describe them in great detail here, but Google is your friend. Currently, Bitcoin is the talk of the town gaining 1,000% in value in the last year and now is worth north of $10,000 a coin from $1,000 earlier in the year. Some say it’ll go to a million by 2020. READ MORE

AGTECH & INVESTMENT: This Robot Handles the Entire Process of Growing Lettuce by Itself
Inside a warehouse in the middle of the suburban office sprawl of San Carlos, a Silicon Valley town south of San Francisco, hundreds of heads of lettuce and herbs grow next to a mobile robot designed to move the plants as they get bigger. READ MORE

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