Ames-based EnGeniousAg has been awarded a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct research and development on a sensor for monitoring nitrate concentrations in actively growing crop plants.
The grant will support research headed by Principal Investigator and EnGeniousAg Operations Manager Xinran Wang.
“EnGeniousAg is developing microneedle sensors that can be inserted directly into crop plants to measure the amount of nitrate flowing through the plant sap,” Wang said. “The real-time information allows farmers to incorporate the data into decision making, resulting in more precise, and timely, nitrogen fertilizer applications.”
Wang said by monitoring nitrate accumulation within crop plants, farmers will know which fields and which portions of fields are nutrient constrained and could benefit from the application of additional nitrate fertilizer.
Additionally, EnGeniousAg’s nitrate sensors will identify those fields that already have sufficient nitrate. By avoiding the application of unneeded fertilizer farmers can increase their profits and sustainability, she said.
Wang said traditional methods used to measure stalk nitrate do not provide farmers the rapid feedback realized with EnGeniousAg’s technology.
“Our technology takes a procedure that typically requires from days to more than a week, and delivers results in about a minute. Hence, adoption of EnGeniousAg’s nitrate sensors promise to not only improve farmer profitability, but also water quality and sustainability as farmers reduce agricultural losses of excess nitrogen.”
EnGeniousAg is a member of the Iowa State University Startup Factory’s fifth cohort, a 52-week intensive program at the Iowa State University Research Park that provides an avenue for students, faculty, staff, and community members to create technology-based, platform businesses.
“The ISU Startup Factory program was so helpful in guiding us through the customer discovery process and defining our business opportunities,” Wang said. “In addition, they connected us to other helpful resources, such as Iowa Innovation Corporation, which administers the state’s SBIR/STTR Outreach Program. The people there were extremely helpful during the process of writing the grant proposal. Both programs helped me see things through a business perspective versus an academic or scientific perspective, which are entirely different approaches. Much of the credit for this successful grant application is owed to them.”
Having been awarded a Phase I SBIR grant, EnGeniousAg is now eligible to apply for a Phase II grant of up to $750,000.
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