The company also has plans to build eight new farms with the first already under construction in South Carolina.
Soli Organic, formerly known as Shenandoah Growers, today announced a $120 million financing arrangement with leading real estate development firm Decennial Group.
Soli Organic was also launched as a new corporate name and brand, Soli Organic. The word Soli is derived from the Latin word for soil and, per the release, “reflects the pivotal role of soil in enabling the company’s mission to make low-cost, high-quality, organic produce grown nearby available to everyone.”
Per the announcement, the arrangement with Decennial Group is a “key component of the Company’s strategy to further expand production capacity to meet growing demand.” Soli Organic intends to build eight new farms, in addition to its seven farms in operation today. The Decennial Group financing will support construction of three of the eight planned facilities. Each 100,000 square foot facility will have an annual production capacity of 5 million pounds. The ground was broken on the first facility financed through Decennial Group, which is located in Anderson County, South Carolina, and is anticipated to be operational by the second quarter of 2022.
“Working with Soli Organic aligns perfectly with the Decennial Group core mission to add value for best-in-class operating companies seeking an optimized real estate investment and development solution,” said Scott Goodman, Decennial Group Managing Partner. “We could not be prouder of this arrangement with Soli Organic, which we believe will support the company’s mission-critical real estate needs in a way that is effective, efficient and highly scalable, while maximizing social impact.”
“Through our proprietary soil-based, organic, indoor production system, Soli Organic is the first company to unlock the full value of controlled environment agriculture, including considerable cost savings and environmental benefits. Support from Decennial Group and equity partners enables Soli Organic to further scale and share those benefits with more retail customers and more consumers in more geographies,” said Matt Ryan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Soli Organic. “As a result, Soli Organic is well-positioned to continue to build on our strong legacy of financial and market performance, execute against our growth plan, and deliver differentiated organic products that meet existing and future customer demand.”
Soli Organic also announced several new hires, including former Starbucks executive Matt Ryan as CEO; former Postmates senior vice president Mike Buckley as Chief Financial Officer; former Walmart executive Cameron Geiger as Chief Operating Officer; and leading plant biology and lighting expert Dr. Tessa Pocock as Chief Science Officer. They join longstanding ELT members President Philip Karp, Chief Customer Officer Steven Wright and Chief Technology Officer Ulf Jönsson.
The corporate name change to Soli Organic is effective immediately. Product branding will begin to convert to Soli Organic on select product lines in next spring.
The Alberta, Canada-based operation is adding curtains to all of its greenhouses to reduce visual impact.
In a press release, Big Marble Farms has announced its latest project: the installation of ceiling blackout curtains on all existing greenhouses. The project, per the release, “will significantly decrease the amount of light emitted during the winter months and reduce the impact of our business on the broader community.”
Currently, Big Marble Farms has 20 acres of blackout coverage, in keeping with Cypress County bylaws. Once the new project is finalized, all 55 acres of greenhouse will have ceiling blackout curtains, significantly reducing the visual impact of our operations. The work of retrofitting the greenhouse will begin in fall 2021 and will be completed in the second half of 2022.
“When we started twelve years ago, it was hard to imagine that our business would look like it does today. The community has been very supportive, and we do not take for granted how our operations affect those around us,” said Ryan Cramer, CEO of Big Marble Farms. “We love growing and doing business here. This project is a proactive step to reduce the impact on our friends and neighbours.”
Big Marble Farms was founded in 2009 by the Cramer and Wagenaar families. Its product offering features Long English and mini cucumbers, tomatoes (TOV, roma, cocktail, beefsteak, medley, grape, and cherry), sweet and mini bell peppers, living lettuce and eggplant.
West Virginia University researchers develop new robot pollinator as a backup for declining insect populations.
The shortage of natural pollinators, such as bees, is threatening global food production around the world, making it difficult to feed an ever-growing human population. Researchers at West Virginia University have come up with a plan B to this decline in pollinators by creating a robotic pollinator.
A team led by Yu Gu, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is creating StickBug, a six-armed robot to assist humans in greenhouse environments by pollinating various crops.
Gu’s robotic pollination proposal submitted to the National Robotics Initiative was selected for $750,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Joining Gu on the project are Jason Gross, associate professor and associate chair for research, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Nicole Waterland, associate professor of horticulture and director of controlled environments.
“It (StickBug) maps out the environment and once the robot has a general idea of the environment, it will build up a more detailed mapping of the plants and knows where the flowers are and which flower needs to be pollinated,” Gu said. “It will make a plan on what to do. Then, it will get close to each of the plants, start swinging its six arms and start pollinating.”
According to Gu, the six arms are mainly for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the robot. For example, some flowers could be in hard-to-reach places and the robot may need to use two arms. One arm for grabbing the branch, and the other arm to pollinate the flower.
The robot is responsible for the time-consuming tasks of flower inspection, mapping, pollination and development tracking. This allows growers the freedom to focus on other greenhouse tasks like planting, irrigation and pest control.
“The focus of the end product is to try to lower the barrier of entry to make it more practical so that growers would want to adopt a robotic technology in their greenhouse operation,” Gross said.
The long-term goals for this robot are to care for individual crops efficiently, improve food security during insect declines, support indoor agriculture and provide services beyond what insects can do such as collecting data on the crops.
Evaluation of StickBug’s pollination effectiveness will be performed in the WVU Evansdale Greenhouse using two crops: blackberries and tomatoes. These crops were chosen because both are sufficiently popular in the United States and hold economic value.
“Tomato is probably one of the most economically-important crops in the country and it also needs help for pollination,” Gu said. “Another major reason is that tomato plants [grow] year-round. There are always tomato flowers to do experiments on.”
“Greenhouse tomatoes can be produced for 11 months out of the year so there’s a continual need for them (pollinators),” Waterland said.
Waterland noted that tomato and blackberry crops are both being produced more and more in high tunnels and greenhouses, where researchers see potential utilization of the robotic pollination system.
According to the USDA Forest Service, about 80% of all flowering plants require assistance from animals for pollination and, without pollinators, many crops cannot propagate.
With the aid of robotic pollinators, Gu said growers can overcome the shortage of pollinators and obtain higher profit opportunities by planning flexible pollination schedules independent from the activity of pollinators.
“There’s a very high percentage of crops that rely on pollination and so it’s quite conceivable to think in the future that there could be a potential shortage [of pollinators],” Gu said. “That could have some importance for needing this robotic pollination technology.”
“Agriculture is a field that is very ripe for disruption with robotics and automation,” Gross said. “The hope is that a lot of those challenges with perception and manipulation and interacting with the plant will be more widely applicable to a lot of different robotics agriculture applications.”
While West Virginia is a primarily rural state, it is not an agricultural state, meaning that it imports more food than it produces. Gu hopes that this robotic pollination technology can support more people in the state to have their own venture in agriculture.
For WVU specifically, Gross, Gu and Waterland said that the robot pollinator also provides educational opportunities for students.
“WVU allows us to do cutting-edge research,” Gu said. “[This project] provides an opportunity for students to do both hands-on and theoretical research in robotics as well.”
For undergraduate students, the StickBug robot design and field-testing components can provide numerous research and learning opportunities.
“In addition to allowing us to conduct research and disseminate research findings to peer-reviewed publications, we’ll be funding graduate students and undergraduate workers off of this project,” Waterland said. “We’ll be utilizing the grant funding from this project to educate the next generation of faculty and researchers. This will strengthen the development of these individuals coming out of universities.”
According to Gu, specific programs will also be developed to integrate the engineering and skilled labor training domains so that future training aligns with the rapidly advancing use of robotics.
“The great thing about this project is it really encourages these interdisciplinary, intercollege collaborations,” Waterland said. “It really builds a bigger, whole picture for the students and for the research. The ultimate goal is that this actually goes into industry and that we develop a robotic platform that can be used in the agricultural discipline.”
“One thing that we’re really excited about is that this project really fits well with being a land-grant institution,” Gross said. “We have the second round of a partnership with our robotics faculty, and our college of agricultural and design faculty. We get to leverage the fact that WVU has a state-of-the-art research greenhouse for robotics research. Those are all things that I think make it really exciting to be at WVU.”
Oufattole has more than 20 years working R&D roles.
Per a press release, Revol Greens has hired Mohammed Oufattole, MBA as Chief Technology Officer. He brings over years of experience in life sciences and agricultural biotechnology research, “having led a broad range of crop improvement applications and multiple R&D programs.” He also has successfully led research teams through start-up funding cycles. Culminating from its R&D efforts this year alone, Revol Greens has introduced three new-to-market greenhouse lettuce innovations and is on pace to reach national distribution two years ahead of schedule.
As CTO, Oufattole will oversee Revol Greens’ variety selection and farm digitization strategy from Revol’s Austin based location, near its 20-acre Temple, Texas greenhouse that is under construction, and will drive varietal improvements to bring tastier and more nutritious products to the market.
Mohammed joins Revol Greens from Benson Hill, where he served as VP of Research and Development for nearly six years. He helped build the R&D organization from the ground up and led several growth areas in the company, including the founding of a state-of-the-art discovery and product development pipeline, integrating capabilities from gene editing, biotechnology, and molecular breeding applications. Mohammed also oversaw strategic partnerships, licensing agreements for germplasm and other product development programs.
Prior to joining Benson Hill, Mohammed spent 10 years with Bayer Crop Science, where he served in multiple scientific leadership positions within the Ag Biotechnology division, including an assignment as Director of the company’s Biotech Research Center in India. He also is an author and co-author on over 15 patent applications, seven granted patents and more than 20 publications in peer reviewed journals.
“Since our inception, Revol Greens has pursued a dual-continent R&D strategy, with much of our testing and development conducted at our R&D center in the Netherlands, where the art and science of greenhouse growing was perfected and also in close proximity to our strategic partners,” says Michael B. Wainscott, Chief Executive Officer at Revol Greens. “Mohammed will guide the expansion of our US-based R&D program, build our domestic R&D team in Austin, and leverage his expertise in data and plant biology to increase production, environmental controls and automation.”
“Revol Greens is an innovation-first company and I’ve been impressed with their commitment to bringing more high-quality greens to households across the country through sustainable growing methods,” says Oufattole. “From its Plant-Fed Organic nutrient source to its water-saving practices, and high-quality lettuce varieties grown at scale, I am looking forward to helping re-define our food system practices and deliver healthier, more sustainable food options.”
OSHA responds to record-breaking heat in the U.S. in 2021 that endangered millions of workers exposed to heat illness and injury in both indoor and outdoor work environments.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it will be publishing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings on Oct. 27, 2021. Currently, OSHA does not have a specific standard for hazardous heat conditions and this action begins the process to consider a heat-specific workplace rule.
“As we continue to see temperatures rise and records broken, our changing climate affects millions of America’s workers who are exposed to tough and potentially dangerous heat,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “We know a disproportionate number of people of color perform this critical work and they, like all workers, deserve protections. We must act now to address the impacts of extreme heat and to prevent workers from suffering the agony of heat illness or death.”
The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will initiate a comment period to gather diverse perspectives and expertise on topics, such as heat-stress thresholds, heat-acclimatization planning and exposure monitoring.
“While heat illness is largely preventable and commonly underreported, thousands of workers are sickened each year by workplace heat exposure, and in some cases, heat exposure can be fatal,” said Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings is an important part of our multi-pronged initiative to protect indoor and outdoor workers from hazardous heat.”
Heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related workplace hazards. To help address this threat, OSHA implemented a nationwide enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards, is developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections and forming a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group to provide a better understanding of challenges and identify and share best practices to protect workers.
Read the Federal Register notice for submission instructions. Beginning Oct. 27, submit comments at www.regulations.gov, the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal and refer to Docket No. OSHA-2021-0009. All comments must be submitted by Dec. 27, 2021.