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ST. LOUIS (DTN) -- The Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis is used to growing plants, but this week, the center turned its meeting rooms and lobby into an incubator for a different life form -- dozens of young agricultural start-ups, eager to grow into legitimate companies.
The sixth annual Ag Innovation Showcase, hosted by the Danforth Center and Larta Institute, brought in 415 attendees this year -- a potent mix of entrepreneurs, investors, and representatives from agricultural corporations, universities and government agencies.
Out of more than 100 applications from agricultural start-ups, 20 budding companies were selected to present the showcase with their ideas for new agricultural products, ranging from data tools to microbial products and new oil crops. At the end of each presentation, the start-ups presented their funding needs and financial plan and then fielded the comments, questions and concerns of potential investors.
Rohit Shukla, CEO of Larta Institute, which founded the Ag Innovation Showcase in 2009, said the presenting companies at the conference this year highlighted an industry "that's clearly going in the direction of very sophisticated precision agricultural innovations and biologicals."
"Agriculture is changing dramatically," he told DTN. "The farmer is going to be encountering an embarrassment of riches right now. They really need to pay attention to how technologies are evolving and who is doing it."
Some of the burgeoning companies, such as an oilseed company called Arvegenix staffed largely by former Monsanto executives, are headed by veteran entrepreneurs with strong ties to large agricultural corporations. Others, like a University of Missouri professor's aerial nitrogen assessment company, are their leaders' first business ventures.
Here's a sample of the presenting companies:
Squall: This Dutch company hopes to expand the market for its spray additive, which has seen success in the Netherlands, into the U.S. and European countries like Germany and France. Bonn claims the company's biodegradable, FDA-approved polymer coating can reduce spray drift by 90%, sticks to seeds five times better than competitors and can keep 50% more of herbicide product on the plant after rainfall events.
Arvegenix: CEO and former Monsanto executive Vijay Chauhan wants farmers to plant a winter annual plant called pennycress on their acres during the idle fall-spring period of a corn and soybean rotation. In exchange for the use of their acres, the company is offering to supply growers with seed, inputs, and the planting and harvesting of the oilseed, which it will sell to biodiesel and industrial oil processors. The company is targeting Midwestern states like Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio with a goal of one million acres by 2019.
Agrisoma: This seed company is presenting another oilseed crop, a mustard species called Brassica Carinata. The company is marketing the crop as a viable rotation option for commodity farmers in Canada and the U.S. Carinata's seed will be channeled through Patterson Grain elevators and can be processed for biodiesel and a high-protein meal for cattle feeders. With two years of commercial production on 10,000 acres under its belt, the company is marketing two commercial varieties this year.
Kultevat: Using Russian dandelions, this company hopes to supplant the Southeast Asian monopoly on rubber production in time to offset an industry-expected rubber shortage starting in 2016. The dandelions can be grown in most of the U.S. and the company uses retrofitted sugarbeet processors to produce the rubber and its co-product, fermentable sugar syrup. Contracts are already in place for growers in the U.S. and Australia this year.