FoodShot Global is a new collaborative investment platform founded by venture capitalist Victor Friedberg designed to enhance businesses, researchers, social enterprises, and policy organizations determined to transform the food system. The platform sponsors an annual investment competition to support the most innovative ideas on how to healthfully, sustainably, and equitably feed 10 billion people by 2050. The winners of the FoodShot Prize are offered investment, guidance, mentorship, and capacity-building resources to maximize their impact.
FoodShot Global recently introduced the inaugural winners of the 2019 MoonShot Prize for Innovating Soil 3.0. The winners’ globally applicable, transformative solutions enhance soil health to address critical problems in food and agriculture and support human health.
The winners are Trace Genomics, Dr. Gerlinde De Deyn, Dr. Keith Paustian’s COMET Farm tool, and Dr. Dorn Cox’s OpenTEAM tool.
Trace Genomics helps farmers maximize the potential of every field by making them experts on soil microbiomes through their soil analytics engine. Founders and tech entrepreneurs Dr. Diane Wu and Dr. Poornima Parameswaran hope to unlock the power of complex microbiomes to deliver prescriptive insights.
Their company combines farmers’ ancestral knowledge of their field histories with cutting-edge soil analysis conducted via mail-in soil samples. Trace Genomics tests the soil, extracts DNA, and sequences genomes to identify and count microbes. This data provides insights into soil health and potential threats to prevent large scale crop failures leading to food shortages and diminishing farm revenue.
The field of genomics revolutionized the field of human health leading to personalized medicine; when the founders noticed farmers asking for help in better understanding the diseases and health risks in their fields, Wu and Parameswaran saw an opportunity to transition from human health to soil health. They believe that food is medicine and that “the food we eat has a direct impact on our health… Food starts with soil and we’re helping growers understand and quantify what’s in their soil” provides actionable, evidence-based agronomic data to farmers.”
Trace Genomics is beginning trials in Europe and Argentina and is expanding into row crop markets in 2020. S2G/Venture Partners is investing an additional US$2 million and the Grantham Foundation an additional US$1 million into Trace Genomics.
Dr. Gerlinde De Deyn is one of two GroundBreaker Prize winners for her research into soil ecology connecting plant biodiversity in space and time. De Deyn, of Wageningen University and Research, works towards alleviating hunger through her expertise on soil health, nutrient cycling, and nutrient use efficiency.
On a microscopically small level, De Deyn is gaining a mechanistic understanding of how soil interacts with its surroundings for productivity, nutrient cycling, disease suppression, and soil carbon sequestration. De Deyn tells Food Tank “many processes in soil happen at a microscale but show macroscale effects,” the productivity and nutritious quality of food results from what happens around a plants’ root system. This “unseen world below-ground really matters a great deal for aboveground biodiversity as well as for multiple ecosystem processes.”
De Deyn’s enhancement of a complex understanding of soil ecology comes with advice to all consumers. “We cannot just harvest from the soil, we also need to give food back to the soil to maintain the functions it provides.” With the support of FoodShot, De Deyn will begin a new collaborative research project on soil regenerative management practices and their links to food quality in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The second GroundBreaker Prize winner is Dr. Keith Paustian for his work on spreading pragmatic, actionable knowledge on conservation agriculture with the COMET Farm tool. COMET Farms offers farmers online quantified assessments of which soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission reduction methods will be most impactful on a specific farm.
By accounting for a farm’s local variability and individual conditions using location data and by describing historic land use, management practices, crop plantings, harvests, and soil maintenance practices, COMET Farm predicts which conservation methods best serve unique systems, practices, and land use for customized solutions. The system will soon include new metrics like water use and water quality impacts as well as various physically-based soil health attributes.
Paustian told Food Tank that COMET Farm is “designed to help ALL types of farms… transition to soil carbon enhancing practices, promoting healthier soils.” The transition to conservation practices is widespread with 17 states recently enacting or pending legislation to promote healthy soils.
COMET Farm has over 800 registered users and has hosted over 25,000 user sessions since 2016—including 10,000 user sessions in the past year alone. The FoodShot Prize will help Paustian to expand this decision-making tool to agricultural practices outside of the United States.
The winner of the GroundBreaker “Seed” Prize went to Dr. Dorn Cox’s OpenTEAM data observation, collection, and sharing platform for regenerative agriculture. OpenTEAM —or Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management—is a tool that uses affordable remote sensing data to restore and regenerate soil, while democratizing access to data using open source technology.
The OpenTEAM tool turns every farm into a personal research farm where farmers can record and store their individual data and opt to share data for research on natural solutions to increase farm productivity, reduce greenhouse gases, sequester carbon, and grow more food. “Improving soil health is what we need to adapt to climate change and will also mitigate, restore, and regenerate our landscapes,” says Cox.
Cox told Food Tank about the value of connecting farmers to global research, “I have come to see agriculture not as a solitary rural enterprise or like any other business, but rather a multi-
generational team effort.” This effort is enhanced when farmers use OpenTEAM for in-field observation hardware and software, agroecosystem models, and decision support tools.
FoodShot Global partners include Rabobank, Generation Investment Management, Mars Edge, UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Builders Initiative, Armonia, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, The Yield Lab, The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, Sall Family Foundation, Path Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the Soil Health Institute, S2G, Acre Venture Partners, Activant Capital, ASW Ventures, and Grantham Foundation.
Congratulations to the MoonShot Prize winners!