Brandon Hunnicutt likes being on the cutting edge, exploring possibilities and the ‘what ifs’ in agriculture. By being a part of InnerCircle, the Nebraska farmer hopes to bring a real-world perspective to the development of seed technology.
“There are a lot of great ideas out there, but some are very impractical when we try to implement them on the farm. Farmers need to be open to sharing what they need on their farms and what may or may not work. Companies need to be willing to ask for our input in the early stages of development,” Hunnicutt says. “The relationships that can be developed in an initiative like InnerCircle can have benefits long beyond what we do here, making our farms stronger and more resilient.”
Created by start-up InnerPlant, the endeavor is initially bringing together 50 farmers who will contribute their knowledge in selecting important features for InnerSoy including germplasm, stress factors, and detection methodology and frequency. The product also must be scalable, affordable, and easy to implement. For $500/year, InnerCircle’s founding members will also gain early access to the seed technology, which will include product discounts, and industry insights.
“InnerCircle is about creating a community of innovative farmers who will not only collaborate with us but with each other to design and define the future of seed technology,” says Shelly Aronov, CEO and cofounder, InnerPlant. “They have to believe that, together, we can drive change.”
Illinois farmer Steve Pitstick joined InnerCircle because he wants to be a part of a group that is forward looking, discussing solutions to issues farmers see on the horizon.
“We need to continually evolve in this industry,” Pitstick says. “Herbicide resistance will be an accelerating problem in the decade ahead. We need to be looking for alternative solutions now. I’m not sure InnerPlant has the answer currently but working directly with farmers will help them focus on the needs and challenges facing growers today and in the coming years.”
Several farmers also expressed interest in creating a larger community where they not only share thoughts on InnerSoy’s development, but exchange ideas on other topics, so InnerPlant is currently recruiting to grow the group’s membership.
ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY
By recoding DNA, InnerPlant is giving each plant a voice to alert farmers when it’s sick. The California company’s genetically engineered plant sensors make a plant’s natural signals visible by adding a safe protein to its natural capabilities. Viewed through an iPhone, drone, satellite, or other optical device, the fluorescent proteins produced in plant leaves appear in a different color, alerting farmers to fungi, pests, drought, or nutrient stress within hours of a problem emerging.
Using machine learning, InnerPlant’s vision is for its software to integrate the proprietary plant signals from soybeans with other data sources to provide farmers with clear, stress-specific recommendations on how to manage the affected crop. The goal is a reduction in widespread crop disease, less use of pesticides and chemicals, and an increase in yields.
“This technology is the beginning of the next revolution within agriculture, especially as we spend more time talking about sustainability and caring for every acre. In theory, we can now care for an individual plant because it is able to tell us exactly what it needs,” Hunnicutt says. “If we, as farmers, can better address what the next generation of issues are, and use the next generation of seed technology to address them, everyone wins.”