September 10, 2022 – Qualterra, an agricultural biotechnology firm, has been awarded a competitive NIST SBIR grant to integrate plant growth metrics, production optimization, and artificial intelligence into its existing TreeTracker™ software and provide next-generation plant tracking capabilities to farmers.
Since its inception, TreeTracker™ has always been cutting-edge. Conceived in an era when few inventory management systems could trace inventory that multiplied on its own, it was first designed to track the lineage of plants produced in tissue culture. Complete traceability for every plant was not enough, however; shortly thereafter, it was also outfitted with the ability to actively prevent mix-ups in the lab. Now, TreeTracker™ is taking another bold step forward: a NIST SBIR grant will support the integration of plant growth metrics, a research knowledge base, and machine learning-powered predictions. “We expect that TreeTracker™ will be able to provide key insights on how to optimize plant growth, maximize production output, and minimize costs for plant propagation,” explains Dr. Seanna Hewitt, Scientist and Grants Specialist at Qualterra and co-PI on the grant.
The new software module will analyze data from both a Research Knowledge Base and from real-time data provided by the user from process improvement experiments. The software will detect key performance indicators, which can be harnessed to inform R&D processes or to direct operations management. Initial work in Phase I of the grant will establish proof of concept for selecting and implementing software components; future grants will address the identification of optimal components and extend tracking capabilities to a greenhouse setting.
This new functionality will support Qualterra’s plant production team in supplying high-quality, virus free, true-to-type rootstocks for the horticultural industry, but it will also be available to growers, nurseries, and greenhouses. “This is going to be a great tool for several different groups, including our plant customers, vertical farmers, tissue culture labs, and greenhouses” says CEO Mike Werner. “When complete, TreeTracker™’s plant tracking and operations optimization capabilities will extend from the lab all the way to the greenhouse or orchard.” Beta testing will begin in 2023.
Qualterra’s platform of technologies that have been developed for over a decade, ensure accelerated production for true-to-type plants and tree fruits, increase yields and plant quality based on unique formulations of biochar that can sequester significant amounts of carbon and responsibly eliminate crop waste, and provide robust genetic and disease testing and other analytical services for growers and producers. Qualterra’s lab is listed by the CPCNW as capable of testing for Little Cherry Virus 2 and X-Disease.
Qualterra is a combination of two recently joined companies. Qualterra Inc. founded in 2011, and Ag Energy Solutions founded in 2010.