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Student’s company advocates global, sustainable farming

first_imgIn the face of the impending global food security crisis, one student is working toward a lasting solution. Sanjay Rajpoot, set to graduate from USC this December with degrees in physics and chemical and nanotechnology engineering, has big plans in store for his company, Sustainable Microfarms, and its developments, which could change the way people farm.In addition to advocating sustainable growing, Rajpoot and the Sustainable Microfarms team hope to extend their reach into underdeveloped regions hit hardest by famines, such as India, China and Africa. Sustainable Microfarms suggests hydroponics — growing crops in water instead of soil — as the most effective mode of farming in varying environments with varying resources.“Hydroponics allows people to farm without the environmental constraints that come with soil,” Rajpoot said. “The awesome part is, you can control what is put into the water, all the way down to the sulfur content. You can make food nutritious and organic without worrying about environmental factors ruining your crop.”Depleted soils from overfarming pose a great challenge to industrial agriculture, especially in conjunction with the growing world population. Hydroponics, on the other hand, offers a farming solution that requires 90 percent less water, 70 percent fewer nutrients and anywhere from 10 to 30 times the yield of a conventionally-farmed crop.As a sophomore, Rajpoot was involved in a research project with USC biological sciences assistant professor Myrna Jacobson, which originally sparked his interest in agricultural technology. He later was introduced to General Hydroponics founder Lawrence Brooke, who exposed him to the inner workings of the industry. Rajpoot said he saw hydroponics becoming transformative in the agriculture industry, but that he thought changes would have to be made first — contemporary hydroponic methods were too tedious and costly.“In conventional hydroponics, you have to constantly check the pH and plant food levels in the reservoir; if anything changes, you need to break out the graduated cylinders and remeasure,” Rajpoot said. “We worked on a product that eliminates the need for constant monitoring and dosing.”Rajpoot and his team, including some of his brothers from the fraternity Theta Xi, participated in and won engineering competitions at USC, California Institute of Technology, Yum! Brands and the Dept. of Energy. In addition, the Kairos Society selected the Sustainable Microfarms team for a fellowship, which allowed them to pitch their prototype to high net-worth investors at the New York Stock Exchange, allowing them to grow their network and bankroll themselves as an official corporation.With their newfound capital and connections, Rajpoot and his engineers created the Genesis Controller, a system that comes with preprogrammed algorithms to monitor pH and nutrient levels in hydroponic reservoirs by depositing nutrient solutions. The product, whose inventors boast will ensure that home growers won’t ever again need a chemistry degree to get started in hydroponics, is the first tangible step in Rajpoot’s vision of individualized sustainable farming.After recent success with their Indiegogo fundraiser for the Genesis Controller, which is now in its initial stages of distribution, Sustainable Microfarms is planning to undertake more capital investment ventures to fund large-scale developments for companies such as Amway and Home Town Farms.“Naturally, not everyone will want to or be able to farm at home, so we must cater to large markets as well,” Rajpoot said. “We will raise more funds for engineering and business development to build products to make industrial farming more efficient in terms of water usage.”As for his success in the business world, Rajpoot credits USC with keeping him well-connected and well-rounded.“USC has been a crucial part in my success. I got really lucky because I had an amazing host of mentors while being at USC,” Rajpoot said. “A lot of my time was spent on theoretical work in labs, but I was exposed to both sides of the coin through the Marshall School [of Business].”Several students had positive reviews of Sustainable Microfarms’ goals. If given the chance, Dean Hutkin, a sophomore majoring in computer science and business administration, said he would try his hand at hydroponics at home.“It seems like a really efficient and innovative idea,” Hutkin said. “Like other forward-thinking technologies, such as solar panels, it’ll take some time and effort to get started, but in the end it could really benefit both the impoverished and the everyday person.”Giuseppe Robalino, a sophomore majoring in business administration, also supported the movement and predicted that Sustainable Microfarms will continue to grow.“This is definitely something that, if marketed right, can really pick up steam,” Robalino said. “Even in urban areas like ours, people are starting to go back to the basics and look for healthier, more high-quality and wholesome food choices. It’s a paradigm shift in the making.” Follow us on Twitter @dailytrojanlast_img read more