Carbon Nanotube Probe for Farm Assaying

This is of course a major development and not just for the modernfarmer.  Any farmer needs to know whatthe mineral profile of his soil is.  Thisallows him to develop an accurate profile and to check local changes.  It all happens now while it is fresh in hismemory.

My only question is whether biochar will mask some of the informationby locking up surpluses.

With this device a farmer can do a walk about and check specific areasand fertilize to match the situation. One may even pick up on the effects of a thunder storm.

Again this is a welcome addition to the farmer’s tool box.

Forthe Modern Farmer, A Carbon Nanotube Probe
Solid-statesensor is one of a new crop of interesting, eco-friendly tools andtechnologies.

Carbon nanotubes arestronger than steel, conduct electricity better than metals and can filterwater of impurities better than many conventional systems.

And now they might showup on the farm.

CleanGrow, based inIreland, has developed a carbon nanotube-based sensor for monitoring the levelof nutrients in crops. Changing the mix of nutrients can allow farmers to alterthe color or maturity rate of fruit, flowers or vegetables. With interest in vertical farming and resource-efficient agriculture on therise, it’s the kind of tool that could find a ready audience.

“They’ve never beenable to manage nutrients on a real-time basis,” said CEO Ciaran Long. “Everyonesends out their data to a lab.”

Sending data to a lab,of course, takes time. Many of the labs are in the Netherlands and the round trip cantake close to a week. Lettuce only takes about 28 days to grow, so a week isone-fourth of its life span. The primary concerns of farmers, he added, isyield, yield, yield, and increased yield.

So how does it work?Conventional nutrient probes are analog devices and capture a composite pictureof the current environmental conditions in miniature. In CleanGrow’s device, ananotube sensor tuned to a specific ion -- nitrate, sodium, etc. -- sits on oneside of a membrane. As water passes through, the sensor detects the presenceand quantity of the target ion.

Up to 18 differentsensors tuned to different ions can be placed on a probe head.

“It’s solid state, soit never wears out,” he said. “You can bash it about. [...] The carbonnanotubes allow you to go solid state.”

While venturecapitalists will often talk about the growing importance of the food and watermarkets,agriculture hasn’t been showered withthe whopping loads of money that have gone into biofuels, solar and energyefficiency. Nonetheless, interest seems to be growing. Many of these startupswill sell straight to agribusiness, not government agencies, which makes themmore attractive to investors. Some (like CleanGrow) are really mostly taking ITtools to farms, similar to the way efficiency companies have brought networkingto air conditioning and lights. That’s an easier sell to investors.

Others to keep an eyeout for:
Kaiima: The Israeli outfit has come up with a way to genetically enhance foodcrops in a manner that gets around regulations surrounding GMOs.(Company execs can also explain what’s behind those freakishly largestrawberries.)

AeroFarm Systems: Calling themselves"The Future of Urban Agriculture," AeroFarm is developing aeroponictechnology for growers of "leafy greens" in the $4 billion bag-saladmarket.  The design of their farming systems uses no soil, a minimum offertilizers and water, and can be stacked to maximize space. The companyenvisions using buildings in NYC to grow salad greens with enormous yieldsusing LED-based lighting. Grow lights could be an early application for LEDs.

InkaBiospheric Systems: Vertical food-growing systems and"micro-farms" that support hydroponics -- suitable for urban gardens.

LocalDirt: An early-stage firm that matches producers of locallygrown food with buyers.

Marrone Bio Innovations:Environmentally responsible productsfor weed, plant diseaseand invasive pest management.  Marrone uses naturallyoccurring microorganisms for integrated pest management -- insecticides,herbicides and products for controlling invasive mussels inwaterways.  Founder Pam Marrone also founded AgraQuest, anotherbiopesticide company.

Open Blue Sea Farms: Open ocean, caged"free-range" fish farmers.  Open Blue’s initial species isCobia, a sashimi-grade, marine white fish, targeted for the gourmet seafoodmarket, the upper 20% of the seafood industry in the U.S.

PasteuriaBioscience: Nematodes, also known as roundworms, are the mostnumerous multicellular animals on earth and many of them are parasitic on humanagricultural products such as turfgrass and strawberries.  Chemicalcontrol of nematodes is a multi-billion dollar business and PasteuriaBioscience has developed a cultivation method for naturally occurring soilbacteria that specifically attack plant-parasitic nematodes.

PurFresh:20 percent to 40 percent of fresh food is lost to over-ripening or decay. PurFresh has a family of products that spans the food supply chain in thepre-harvest, post-harvest, transportation and retail phases to address thisissue.  Their transport product "snaps" into marine containersand kills mold, bacteria, and viruses, as well as eliminating ethylene, whichaccelerates ripening. The unit also measures atmospheric and physical conditionsof the food environment, such as door breach, CO2, and O2, and communicatesthis information via satellite. The company madeour Top 50 Startups list.

Solum:Solum makes a field-deployable measurement tool that gives immediate answers onsoil nutrient needs. Fertilizer amounts to 40 percent to 50 percent of theoperating expense for corn, but it is currently applied in an inefficientmanner, with calculations based on average values rather than per-acreneeds.  Solum allows farmers to apply fertilizer in the right amount, atthe right place, at the right time.

Verdant Earth Technologies: Developed at theUniversity of Arizona, Verdant’s system is acontrolled-environment high-yield agriculture process that will allow crops tobe grown anywhere, with no soil and little water, in shipping-type containersthat provide a growing environment for a variety of foods. The system canproduce up to many times more food per square foot than conventional farmingmethods.

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