Drone startup company wins MidAtlantic Farm Credit AgPitch competition
STEVENSVILLE, Md. — A Southern Maryland drone start-up won MidAtlantic Farm Credit’s 2018 AgPitch competition on Dec. 6 with a mission to pair farm data captured from the sky with on-the-ground analysis to save farmers money.
MADTECH, launched by a father and son in Calvert County, beat nearly 30 competitors and won a grand prize of $7,500 and a host of free services at Grow & Fortify’s Value-Added Agriculture Summit where the finalists were judged.
“Why will people buy the MADTECH system? They’re going to save a lot of money,” said Tom Marnane, company president, to a group of judges evaluating five finalist presentations hours before the winner was announced. “We provide the solution. We don’t just provide data.”
MADTECH, based in Huntingtown, uses drones to capture crop data, which it pairs with soil sampling and lab testing to offer prescriptions to client farmers looking to boost yields, save on inputs and solve other agronomic issues. The company plans to charge farms up to 1 percent of the value of their total yield, a fee that should more than pay for itself through savings, Marnane said, standing next to his 21-year-old son, Zach, who hatched the idea for a drone company as a Salisbury University student.
“It’s an aggregation of a lot of simple (recommendations) and doing it with the equipment you have and the people you have,” Marnane said of his work with clients.
Johnny Oyster Seed, another Calvert County business, took second place. Owned by Jon Farrington, the business developed an oystering system that makes it easier for fisherman to deploy and retrieve cages that are less susceptible to marine wear and more efficient.
Other finalists included 1000 Ecofarms, a Bethesda, Md., company that developed an Internet platform for farmers to connect with and sell to consumers; Agrimetis, a Lutherville, Md., research and development firm creating new crop protection chemicals; and GreatAlga, a Baltimore start-up growing algae in bioreactors while using photosynthesis to reduce carbon dixide levels and other greenhouse gasses.
Guests at the Grow & Fortify summit, which was held at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club, voted on the winners. It’s the second year for the Farm Credit competition. Ben Lee of Rockville, Md., won last year for his business, NABAS Group Inc., which developed a process to increase the amount of dissolved oxygen in water while disinfecting it, resulting it boosted crop yields.
When Marnane, his son and two other employees were selected as the winner, he commended the other finalists.
“Everyone here is a winner,” he said.
Grow & Fortify is a Baltimore company that manages several value-added agriculture organizations across the state, including the Maryland Wineries Association and the Brewers Association of Maryland.
The summit included a day of lectures and panels on the growth of value-added agriculture in Maryland and a preliminary report by Memo Diriker, a well-known researcher at Salisbury University, on a soon-to-be-released economic impact study. The value-added industry creates $20.6 billion in economic impact and more than 77,000 jobs in Maryland, he said.
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