Genus PORTA: Our Small Business Innovation Research Program Application
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil,
and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower
In 2021 GENUS submitted its first application to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) SBIR program. The SBIR and STTR programs fund a diverse portfolio of startups and small businesses across technology areas and markets in the hope of stimulating technological innovation.
Spoiler alert, while this initial application did not receive funding, everyone involved with this effort felt the experience was overwhelmingly rewarding. This post, although not directly related to the SBIR process itself, will however prove helpful as we address those questions and constructive comments that we received following review of that initial application and as we dust ourselves off and prepare to resubmit.
The question, and ultimately our motivation for last year’s SBIR application, proves to be challenging throughout plan development and project execution. Accessibility to site and project data is the critical first step in several tasks, each of which are integral to our remediation, reclamation, restoration, and general environmental field services. The problem being that while there is a wealth of information available to individuals within the environmental sciences field, it is scattered among several different government and public entities; unique application platforms and in some instances user interfaces which although adequate for the original design goals and purpose, require a significant amount of application specific experience to effectively navigate. Historical and current atmospheric data, patterns and forecasts; comprehensive soil characterization and chemical analysis for various soil profiles; aerial and satellite imagery; topography; surface and ground water data, each of these critical variables must be factored in daily. Accessing this data while scribbling notes on post-its and in the margins of our field books can be overwhelming during the best of times.
Other than coming up with an awesome name, our goal was and is, to develop a gateway where this information can be accessed, i.e. Porta, by not only improving accessibility for individuals and organizations, but simultaneously taking the next step in also providing a standard upload and data verification process that would facilitate collection of site specific data.
“The technical research proposed within this application seeks to identify the nexus at which point public data sources can be to provide both quantitative sub acre environmental data analysis as well as predictive qualitative land use planning”
Conceptualizing a technically feasible solution is challenging, but the realization of this or “other” technological solutions will result in a service that would support not only modern agriculture, but a broad spectrum of land use decisions. Enhanced, accurate and applicable data access will significantly reduce environmental impacts resulting from poor utilization of existing data platforms, perhaps serving as an opportunity for positive change. A practical solution in advancing the data processing and use of web-based servers to compile environmental related data is not just desirable but critical. Sustainability requires recognizing ALL the challenges we face moving forward. The responsible utilization of our natural resources, food production, preserving unique social and economic opportunities while maintaining environmental awareness, all within an era of climate change is challenging. We feel that this technology, in the perspective of environmental action, should occur at multiple levels simultaneously, individually, within our local neighborhood, and our communities.
“Our concept, GENUS PORTA©, is the culmination of over 40 years of land use, environmental science, and critical response experience. This application approach is critical in enabling public and private landholders to make data driven determinations regarding land use.”
One of the significant lessons we have taken away from having worked on projects in the agricultural and environmental field for some time now, is how important it is to have access to site specific information and data. We do not believe we are unique in that we test rigorously during project and task execution, nor in that we carefully study the site. What may be somewhat unusual is that we encourage landowner observations and work to interpret their historical experience(s) and how these insights correlate with soil health and chemical variation. Providing for this observation vs data translation in what we would hope could become a real-time application will ensure we know that we are making the best decision we can because we've considered every variable. We hope that this will become common practice for individuals and groups whose work is directly connected to the environment, from a commercial farmer preparing to fertilize, to a local government replanting their parks, and everything in between.
“Creating an application that provides scientific based, micro-level land use recommendations will allow each sector to efficiently and cost-effectively make informed decisions and policies.”
Although the initial SBIR application was not funded, the review and feedback received was, and still is, incredibly helpful. The comments related to our application have been beneficial in helping us further specify our idea and gave us insight in what needs to come next to push forward. Advancements in data processing technologies have the potential to not only give greater context into the causes of soil degradation and poor utilization, but also provide and help identify legitimate solutions towards truly sustainable alternatives. That is crucial. This may be a work in progress for us now, but it is something we are very passionate about and see a great need for, now more than ever.