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VTT’s spin-off GrainSense puts a laboratory in farmers’ hands

Milka Lahnalammi-Vesivalo | 13.6.2016

​Fast and reliable seed analyses enable cost optimisation and accurate pricing. The device developed by GrainSense gives farmers information about the quality of their crops right there in the field.

​Farmers have to continuously make choices to ensure the quality and yield of their crops. Farmers also need reliable information about the quality of their crops when they come to sell them.The quality of crops is measured by their composition, such as protein content, and the price of crops always depends on the quality of the batch in question. At the moment, farmers need to send seed samples to laboratories to be able to make cost-effective decisions during the process or to set a price for their crops.

Among the most important factors that determine price and therefore also cultivation methods are protein content and moisture levels. High-protein crops are generally sold to bakeries and breweries, and crops with lower protein content are used as animal feed.

“Farmers need accurate information about the quality of their goods to be able to negotiate sales and prices. Knowing the correct protein content of crops used as animal feed is also important in trade between farmers: Livestock need just the right amount of protein to ensure a consistent quality of meat, eggs, and dairy products,” explains GrainSense’s CEO Edvard Krogius.

Device for optimising farming costs

GrainSense’s invention is palm-sized, portable and battery-powered. When seeds are inserted into the device, infrared waves inside the device are able to analyse the protein, oil, carbohydrate and moisture content of the seeds in a matter of seconds.

Farmers are able to use the information to make production-related choices during the cultivation process.

“It is important for farmers to be able to optimise fertilisation and drying time, which are important contributors to the costs of cereal production,” Krogius says.

Accurate analysis of grain quality also allows farmers, for instance, to sort crops of different seed composition into separate silos ready for different purposes.

The usefulness of the information produced by the analyser is boosted by GPS and a link to cloud services. Software updates and calibration can also be done remotely.

IMP_1_16_grainsense_lisäkuva1.jpg
 

GrainSense CEO Edvard Krogius predicts huge demand for the device now that the protein content of grains has become a priority in crop cultivation.

Aiming for small and affordable

The aim in developing the device was, in addition to small size, to make it affordable for farmers to buy.

“The price is a few thousand euros; not quite as expensive as a tractor, but it is still an investment. Our aim has been to make it possible for farmers to get their money back from the investment during the next growing season,” Krogius explains.

The technology used in the device is confidential, but the key was to make a photodetector operate at a healthy noise-to-signal ratio. This was achieved thanks to multiple factors, of which the developers of the device can say no more.

The technology was originally developed for the pharmaceutical industry, but it became apparent during the process that it could also be used in farming.

“After several discussions with representatives of the Natural Resources Institute Finland, ProAgria and the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners, we realised that the invention had business potential,” says former VTT research scientist and now employee of GrainSense Ralf Marbach.

Made in Finland

High quality is vital for the device, which is why it is being manufactured in Finland, at least for the time being.

“We use several subcontractors, in addition to which there are four people working on product development and commercialisation at GrainSense,” Krogius explains.

To sell and market the device, the company has partnered up with Berner Ltd., and initially the target market is limited to Finland, Sweden, and the Baltic states.

The further development of the device will focus on its GPS dimension and connections to the cloud. GrainSense is also still fine-tuning the design of the device and developing solutions for portability, for example.

IMP_1_16_grainsense_lisäkuva2.jpg
 

The GrainSense device analyses seeds with the help of infrared waves.

Sights set on the global agricultural market

Finland is not a well-known agricultural operat​or globally, but the device developed by GrainSense can help us to penetrate the global agricultural market. The device is also proof of VTT’s investment in spectroscopy know-how, which has yielded several commercial products in recent years.

“This device could not have been developed without VTT’s investment in spectroscopy know-how and its ability to attract internationally competitive research scientists,” Krogius says.

Marbach, who was born in Germany and now works full-time at GrainSense, also believes that the business and the product are all set for success.

“There is definite demand for the product, and the timing is also good, globally speaking.”

End users, i.e. farmers, have been involved in the product development process since the beginning.
The device can be used across the entire agricultural supply chain, from farmers to consumers, who ultimately judge the quality of produce. The invention also has potential for further development, which can create new jobs in Finland.

“Plans are already in place for our first product development project. In the long term, GrainSense also has opportunities for larger-scale research cooperation and therefore for creating new commercial applications,” Marbach explains.

Grainsense

Founders of GrainSense;
Ralf Marbach  (inventor and founder),
Jouni Huopana (founder),
Ykä Marjanen (founding member),
Max Schulman (founding member),
Arve Lukander (founding member) and
Edvard Krogius (founding member),

Investors; VTT Ventures Ltd., Berner Ltd. and three Nordic investors from an agricultural background.
Development loan; Tekes has granted GrainSense a development loan.

www.grainsense.com


 

 

 

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