If we want regenerative organic agriculture to truly take over the world, the yields and productivity of this growing method have to be so profound and so convincing that farmers will aggressively seek it out.
In order to make that happen, we need to identify something that has eluded farmers for thousands of years — how to figure out exactly what is in the soil.
If experienced farmers know precisely what is in the ground, they will have an infinitely better handle of how the land should be managed, which crops to plant and which crops not to plant. They will not have to wait until a crop has been grown to see that there is a problem, something that creates real financial and operating risk for farmers.
Founded by Dr. Poornima Parameswaran and Dr. Diane Wu, who met as graduate students in Nobel Laureate Andrew Fire’s lab at Stanford University, California-based Trace Genomics is using machine learning, agronomy and genomics to solve this question about what is in the soil. To execute on this ambitious goal, it has raised $22M from top investors including Refactor Capital, Stage 1 Ventures, Viking Global Investors, AgFunder, and FoodShot Global, which was started by S2G Ventures’ Victor Friedberg.
Klaas Martens, a third-generation farmer in New York who converted to organic production in 2000, is convinced that Trace Genomics is offering something unique.
“This technology lets us look in the soil and is taking the guesswork out of farming. It tells us who is there and what they are doing. In agriculture, insects and weeds are viewed as the problem, but they are merely a symptom of what is going on in the soil. Until now, we have been blind and are making observations after the fact.”
By having knowledge of what the soil looks like before seeds ever touch the ground, poor yielding and disease-ridden crops can be avoided altogether. Soil issues can be remediated with a specific farming strategy.
Having this information will not only allow organic and regenerative farms to assess soil health and carbon sequestration, but it will enable farms to establish benchmarks in order to determine whether the soil is improving over time. This was not possible before, whereas prior sequencing soil technology was limited to a research environment and was not able to be delivered at scale.
Currently working with numerous organic farmers across the U.S., Trace Genomics receives soil samples from farms and digitizes the genomic material in the soil, which then goes into a constantly expanding database. In just a few years, the company believes it has already compiled the largest consistent soil database of its kind in the U.S.
Trace Genomics offers dozens of soil health indicators and more than 100 disease risk indicators for over 70 crops, including leafy greens, nuts, grapes, berries, and stone fruit. Testing for corn and soy are expected to be available this fall.
But accumulating the data is just one part of the equation.
“This data needs to be interpreted into a format that is actionable for customers,” said Dr. Poornima Parameswaran. “We provide a map with complex data layers to help farmers identify what traits would be best suited on their land. It is very crop-specific and farm-specific. This is the data layer that has been missing from agriculture.”
When farmers send in soil samples from their land, the company is able to capture all of microbes in the soil, including pathogens and beneficials. While novel microbes are being discovered all of the time, this is not necessarily a hindrance because Trace Genomics can identify commonalities in gene function. Most importantly, the company can understand how these microbes operate in their environment, thereby providing a “systems” or “holistic” approach.
“Growers can realize ROI in the same year. They can achieve efficiencies in labor by knowing where to best deploy workers, they can move crops to high performing fields, and they will know how to grow the best crops,” put forth Dr. Poornima Parameswaran.
As of now, however, the data layers are not prescriptive. It still takes an experienced farmer to interpret that data and know which farming strategies to deploy.
For farmers such as Klaas Martens, who has been growing crops for decades, this is not an issue. For a new farmer, it could be more challenging.
Nevertheless, proponents are incredibly encouraged by this technology’s promise and what it has demonstrated so far.
“Trace Genomics not only has potential to completely disrupt modern agriculture as we know it today, but it could elevate organic and regenerative farming to a level that we have never seen before and to a level that the world desperately needs,” said David Lee, Chairman of Refractor Capital, the company’s first institutional investor.
There may be very few people in the country who know more about selling organic food directly to consumers than Michael Joseph, the founder of three direct-to-consumer organic food companies.
His most recent startup, Green Chef, raised more than $70 million in venture capital funding and grew to become the country’s leading organic meal kit service. Last year, Green Chef was sold to Hello Fresh, a publicly traded meal kit company.
In this wide-ranging conversation on The Living Maxwell Podcast, I spoke with Michael Joseph about how Green Chef got started, the company’s incredibly rapid growth, his experience in raising tens of millions of dollars in flip flops (yes, it’s true), how the company brought unique digital marketing experience to this sector, and whether the meal kit space is actually a viable business or not.
Max Goldberg, Founder
Cece’s Veggie Co. has launched Grillerz, a new product line of organic, ready-to-grill, “Z-cut” vegetables. They come in three flavors — summer squash with savory garlic herb butter, carrots & white sweet potatoes with savory garlic herb butter, and mixed sweet potatoes with savory garlic herb butter.
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An estimated 524,000 children work unimaginably long hours in America's grueling agricultural fields, and it's all perfectly legal.
According to Gordon Haskett Research Advisors, price cuts have come primarily in two categories -- produce and dairy -- while other items have largely stayed the same or, in the case of bread and snacks, even increased.
The incredibly dangerous assault on pollinators continues, this time with the EPA's allowance of sulfoxaflor, which the agency considers “very highly toxic” to bees.
After years of falling farm income and an intensifying U.S.-China trade war - JPMorgan and other Wall Street banks are massively decreasing their agricultural loan portfolio.
The Real Organic Project's Dave Chapman discusses why hydroponics is such an enormous problem for our industry and how large scale industrial producers are taking over the USDA organic label.
Health-conscious mothers are increasingly eschewing American formulas and going to extreme lengths to import organic German formulas not approved by the FDA.
A profile of how the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is working to connect young farmers with mentors, educational resources, and each other.
A recap of last week's Organic Produce Summit in California, which attracted 1,600 attendees, nearly 300 retailers and 148 exhibitors.
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* WOW! In Politico this morning, it was reported that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s plan is to take U.S. agriculture to “net-zero” emissions and that “soil is the next frontier for storing carbon.”
* Congrats to Urban Remedy and CEO Paul Coletta on the announcement that the company will be entering the NYC market on July 31st.
* America’s first cannabis café featuring ‘budtenders’ is set to open in Los Angeles and will be serving organic farm-to-table food bites.
* Apparently, avocado pits are being used for eco-fashion. Who knew?
* In his next documentary — Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! — Morgan Spurlock will be going after restaurants that tout food as “healthy” and “organic” while still sourcing food from factory farms.
* A look inside the first certified organic rooftop farm in the country.
* New York City’s well-known Italian sandwich shop, Regina’s Grocery, which uses high quality and organic ingredients, opened its first Florida location in South Beach.
* Organicity, which has received promotional funding from the European Union, is conducting a survey about European organic food.
* ACTION ITEM: Tell the USDA — chemical companies cannot be allowed to approve their own GMOs.