Agri-Trak, of Williamson, NY, offers its specialized app that, when used with a tablet, can function as a mobile time clock, saving farmers both time and money. Photo courtesy of Agri-Trak

by Enrico Villamaino

An array of agricultural innovators will soon convene to compete for some contest cash.

Grow-NY is a business competition centered on growing agriculture innovation in upstate New York. The competition attracts inventive, high-growth food and agriculture startups from both inside and outside the U.S. Prize winners must commit to engaging in the local business communities in the Central New York, the Finger Lakes or the Southern Tier regions.

The competition, now in its third year, drew over 300 applicants in 2021. Among the 20 finalists vying for prize money are several firms from New York.

Agri-Trak (in Williamson) has developed a farm management app with the apple industry in mind. The app includes customizable modules that allow farm operators to manage things such as employee H-2A contracts, production records, payroll and time sheets. According to company founder and CEO Jamie Sonneville, “Using our app and a tablet, apple producers essentially have a mobile time clock. Our research shows that on average employers were saving eight minutes per day per employee. That adds up!” Additionally, the app tracks important data that can give a more complete picture of which sections of a farm are producing better than others. Sonneville also pointed out that while designed for apple growers, the app could readily be applied to other crops such as potatoes and berries.

Asarasi (in Katonah) capitalizes on reverse osmosis occurring during maple syrup production to provide a sustainable alternative to traditional bottled water. Ninety-seven percent of the sap collected by a maple sugarbush does not make it to the final maple syrup stage. The water extracted from the sap, known as maple permeate, can be used by family farms as a means to increase their profits on their maple crops without having to expand their operations. Adam Lazar, who founded Asarasi in 2014, said that the water is of the very highest quality. “It’s really being filtered through the trunk of the tree – it’s already doing most of the work,” he explained. Asarasi offers a line of sparkling waters in a number of flavors in conjunction with providing high quality water to producers of a variety of different products, from beer to baby formula. He noted that New York is second only to Vermont in terms of maple farms – “and only 3% of New York maple is tapped. Expansion is imminent. There’s great potential.”

Ascribe Bioscience (in Ithaca) has developed what Dr. Jay Farmer likens to “a vaccine for plants.” Farmer, a chemist who began Ascribe in 2017, has created a novel class of non-toxic biopesticides that strengthen plants’ immune systems. The biopesticide can be applied either as a seed treatment or as a spray. Farmer’s research has shown that treated plants have demonstrated greater resistance to pathogens and have produced elevated crop yields. “Historically, two main obstacles to farmers effectively using a product like this have been cost and compatibility. [Ascribe’s biopesticide] is both affordable and highly compatible,” he said. Developed with broad acreage row crops such as wheat and soybeans in mind, Farmer said, “We’ve yet to find a plant that doesn’t react well to its application.”

DraughtLab (in Webster) is a startup that helps companies with sensory data of their products including taste and smell. Matthew Conyer, a co-founder of the firm, explained how his company helps the food and drink industry refine and market their product line with approachable sensory analysis solutions. “We help these producers develop flavor lexicons. Things like beer, butter, yogurt, soups and canned goods, they have very distinct flavor maps. Our software helps track data gathered at structured tastings to put together very specific flavor profiles.” Flavor profiles can reflect a food or drink’s look, taste, texture and mouth feel.

Tropos Technologies (in Yorktown Heights) makes climate control technology for high density farming. Different plants thrive under unique combinations of temperature, relative humidity, carbon dioxide, light and length of growing days. Traditionally, greenhouse operators haven’t had an available solution that automatically monitored and dynamically addressed all of these climate factors in an ongoing manner. Paal Elfstrum began Tropos Technologies two years ago to remedy this. “Our solution is made up of a combination of patented hardware and copyrighted software. We’re able to track air handling systems in real time and therefore can make real time modifications,” he said. “When you look at a product like tomatoes, which can use upwards of 30% to 35% more CO2 than many other common crops, it can make all the difference.”

Three million dollars will be awarded at the conclusion of the Grow-NY Summit, taking place Nov. 16 – 17 at the Oncenter in Syracuse. There is one $1 million award for first place. Two second place finishers will receive $500,000. Four firms will win $250,000 each for third place.