July 11, 2017
Please read the original post by Alex Knapp at forbes.com
AgTech startup Trace Genomics began offering their custom soil health kit to farmers about a year ago. Their aim? To give their customers insights into how healthy their soil is. Its process is pretty simple – a farmer orders a kit, takes a little sample of their soil, and sends it back. The company then sequences the DNA it finds in the soil, which lets them ascertain what kinds of microbes are present there.
A lot of decisions that farmers make, says cofounder Diane Wu, are based on what microbes are present in the soil. “Knowing the information around the healthy, beneficial and the pathogenic microbes are critical to being able to inform those decisions.”
Over the past year, the company has ended up working with farmers who grow a wide variety of crops. “We’ve been working quite a bit with growers in lettuce, strawberries, nuts, orchards, vineyards and also some corn, soy, and wheat growers,” Cofounder Poornima Parameswaran said. “Generally, growers come to us with two main questions. The first question is: ‘Why are some of my fields low-producing?’ And the other big question is, ‘How receptive is my soil to some of these treatments and varietals I’m going to be planting in the upcoming growing season?'”
To date, Trace Genomics has tested over 10,000 different soil samples, and customers include the likes of strawberry producer Driscoll. The company’s also been working with growers to help prevent disease, says Wu.
“One of the stories that we’re really proud of is that in the Yuma and Salinas area, a lot of lettuce growers have been experiencing problems with Fusarium wilt, which is a disease of lettuce,” she said. “And there was no test on the market to really specifically test for that disease. This year, we were able to launch the first diagnostic for that disease to help them assess the disease’s pressures on their field.”
Despite the work they’ve done over the past year, though, the two cofounders say that they’re only just getting started.
“We’ve done a lot of validation around the diseases that growers already know are affecting yield and quality of their produce,” said Parameswaran. “By starting there, creating a brand, creating grower trust in our technology, we’re also building a database which is immensely powerful for the grower community.”