What must agtech and agronomy labs keep in mind when setting up?
Agtech and agronomy labs develop products and applications to improve farming, growing processes, and more. These labs play an important role in food science and development. They are responsible for developing technologies and strategies that enhance agricultural operations, for example, by improving crop yields or preventing plant or animal diseases.
We examine the core factors when setting up an agtech or agronomy lab, including commonly used equipment and relevant standards and proficiency programs.
Key equipment required for an agtech or agronomy lab
Areas of focus for agtech and agronomy labs vary greatly but may include improving soil fertility, developing environmentally friendly pesticides, improving livestock health, or boosting water quality. For example, the soil might be tested to ensure it has the optimal nutrients to stimulate the growth of certain crops, and plant tissue may be studied to determine the effect of a particular pesticide on its makeup.
Depending on the nature of the sample, it might be analyzed for a range of properties. For example, the soil is often tested for texture, pH, and mineral composition—such as levels of potassium, calcium, and other components. Animal products may be subject to genetic testing, sequencing, protein analysis, and virus testing.
Specialized equipment is required for carrying out these tests, with some of the most common listed below:
Atomic spectrometry instruments
Heavy metals such as chromium, cobalt, iron, and copper can be toxic to humans and animals at high concentrations. Heavy metal analysis is performed on various sample types, including plants and manure. Atomic spectrometry instruments are typically used for this type of analysis.
Atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS) uses electromagnetic radiation to determine the composition of a sample. Other popular methods include Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES) and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS).
Microwave digestion system
There are various methods used to prepare samples for heavy metal analysis, but microwave-acid digestion is considered one of the most efficient. In this system, samples are combined with concentrated acid and subjected to microwaves to rapidly heat the sample, leading to decomposition.
Hydrometers are used to measure particle size distribution in compost and certain soil types, including silt and clay. Hydrometer analysis is based on Stokes’ Law and determines soil particle sizes by observing the speed at which they settle out of a liquid suspension.
Colorimeters are used in water analysis. In this technique, the light of a specific wavelength is passed through the sample, and the absorbance is measured and compared to that of a standard.
Near-infrared spectrometry (NIR) can be used to analyze nutrients in plant tissue. Infrared light is directed at the sample, and the amount of reflected light is measured. This reveals information about the sample’s composition, including the levels of moisture, dry matter, crude and digestible protein, and various nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
A PCR machine is a piece of equipment for gene discovery and cloning, seed quality assessment, and bacterial transformant identification. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is a method used to make millions of copies of a DNA sample so that it can be studied in detail. This method can be used to quantify genetically modified content to 0.1 percent.
A microtome is a machine that cuts extremely thin slices of tissue from animal or plant samples. The samples are typically fixed on a glass slide, and then these slices can be examined under a microscope, allowing for detailed tissue analysis.
Agtech and agronomy lab compliance and regulation considerations
Agtech and agronomy labs perform research and development relevant to various industries, including meat, dairy, and crops for human consumption, feed for livestock, hemp and cannabis, and more. The relevant standards and regulations that the lab has to follow will depend on which industries it is participating in, but here are some key regulatory bodies to keep in mind:
The FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of our food supply. It sets standards for food production and processing and inspects farms and factories to ensure they follow these standards. The FDA also responds to foodborne illness outbreaks, investigating the source of the contamination and working to prevent future outbreaks. Some examples of areas regulated by the FDA include pesticides, GMOs, and foods derived from new plant varieties.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a federal department responsible for developing forestry, farming, food, and rural economic development laws. The USDA runs programs that help govern various aspects of agriculture. These include animal and plant health regulations and biotechnology regulations.
The North American Proficiency Testing (NAPT) Program provides environmental and agricultural labs with quality control tools for plant, soil, and water sample testing. A component of the NAPT program is the Performance Assessment Program (PAP). While participation in the PAP program is voluntary, it has been adopted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRSA)—an arm of the USDA—to assure the validation of soil test analyses.
The Association Of Official Analytical Collaboration (AOAC) International establishes international standards for food and other products that may impact public health. This organization runs several proficiency testing programs relevant to agriculture-related labs, including a cannabis/hemp program, meat microbiology programs, and pesticide residues in fruits and vegetable programs.
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