Nebraska Agricultural Innovation
By Governor Pete Ricketts
August 26, 2022
Governor’s Official Photo here.
Nebraska is a land of pioneers. Our state was settled by hardy settlers who ventured across the windswept prairies in search of opportunity. While we often celebrate the courage and determination of these early Nebraskans, they deserve equal credit for their ingenuity. Their inventiveness helped turn the Great Plains into some of the most productive farmland in the world.
This spirit of innovation remains a driving force behind our state’s global leadership in agriculture. Nebraskans are continually coming up with new and better ways to care for their land and their animals. They design machines, create software and apply technologies to optimize the use of natural resources. They are developing new techniques to address labor shortages and safety issues.
State agencies are working to encourage this innovation in agriculture. The Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED), in partnership with Invest Nebraska, launched the Combine Incubator at Innovation Campus in October 2019. The Combine supports high-growth entrepreneurs in food and agriculture . The Combine received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce in September 2020 to help companies test and commercialize their ideas. In May 2021, the Combine won a competitive $50,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy for its demonstrated impact as a hub of innovation.
Combine incubator startups have gained national recognition. In January, the American Farm Bureau Federation announced the winners of its Ag Innovation Challenge, a competition open to entrepreneurs nationwide. Nebraska startups from the Combine incubator program won three of the top four spots.
- Grain Weevil won first prize. The Aurora-based company is tackling the issue of grain silo security. She has developed an agile, weevil-like robot that can traverse the surface of a grain silo to perform tasks that would otherwise require a farmer to physically crawl inside the silo. This makes grain silo management more efficient and protects farmers from danger.
- Birds Eye Robotics of Waterloo was named second. The company designed a robotic system to service and maintain chicken coops, performing time-consuming tasks that would otherwise require a farmer to walk through a chicken coop.
- Marble Technologies was also recognized as a finalist in the Ag Innovation Challenge. It has designed technologies to automate many repetitive and labor-intensive tasks in beef and pork processing facilities. Its products help address labor shortages that are sometimes a bottleneck in meat processing.
Investors are looking to support more entrepreneurs in agriculture. Last year, Nebraska attracted an all-time high of $317.6 million in venture capital. This more than doubled the previous all-time high of $153 million in 2018. For example, Burlington Capital and Invest Nebraska announced a partnership in September 2021 to raise $11 million in seed funding for ag-tech innovators. Last July, they helped Sentinel Fertigation raise $1.2 in seed funding for software development. The company, founded by UNL graduate student Jackson Stansell, uses satellite imagery to assess crop nitrogen needs. It then uses innovative software to analyze the images and provide farmers with data-based recommendations on when and how much fertilizer to use. With nitrogen fertilizer costs at record levels, Sentinel Fertigation saves growers money by helping them avoid excessive fertilizer application, while ensuring crops get the nitrogen they need to grow. to push.
The continuous creation of new technologies in agriculture has helped our state manage its natural resources wisely. For example, Nebraska has responsibly maintained its portion of the Ogallala Aquifer. Water levels today remain within a foot of 1950s levels (in contrast, neighboring states like Colorado have depleted theirs). The Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute estimates that the water productivity of corn and soybeans in Nebraska has increased by 75% between 1990 and 2014. In other words, our farmers are continually growing more crops with less water. ‘water. Since the 1960s, our ranchers have contributed to a 66% increase in domestic beef production, while helping the US beef industry reduce its carbon footprint by 40%.
Advances in agriculture have also enabled farmers and herders to increase their productivity. Nebraska set Nebraska corn and soybean production records for 2021 with 1.85 billion bushels of corn and 351 million bushels of soybeans. Each crop also saw record yields in 2021, with corn at 194 bushels/acre and soybeans at 63 bushels/acre. Our growers, breeders and processors have also harnessed new technologies to increase productivity. Even with nearly 30% fewer cattle today than in 1975, the United States produces more beef.
We are committed to keeping Nebraska at the forefront of agricultural technology innovation. In April, I signed legislation to invest $25 million in a $50 million public-private partnership to build an agricultural innovation facility at the Nebraska Innovation Campus. It will be located next to a $140 million research facility that the United States Department of Agriculture plans to build. The facilities will bring together researchers, engineers and agricultural entrepreneurs to transform scientific discoveries into products that our farmers and ranchers can use to improve their operations.
While there are exciting technologies on the horizon, many recent innovations have already made their way to fields and pastures. Next month, agriculture leaders from around the world will gather in Wood River to see the latest advancements in farming technology at Husker Harvest Days. Visitors will be able to attend live demonstrations in the field, see autonomous agricultural machinery in action and participate in educational sessions to deepen their knowledge. To see what awaits you at our state’s largest farm show, visit the Husker Harvest Days website at www.huskerharvestdays.com.
You can explore the creative agricultural entrepreneurship taking place at the Combine Incubator on the Nebraska Innovation Campus by visiting www.nebraskacombine.com.
To learn more about how the State of Nebraska supports innovation in agriculture, please email [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.