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LeafSpec one of 20 finalists for an international ag competition
By Stan Maddux
Indiana Correspondent

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University agriculture instructor is vying for a $1 million grand prize for his first of its kind hand-held crop imager to help optimize plant health and yields.
Jian Jin is president and CEO of Leaf Spec, LLC, a West Lafayette-based agricultural technology company he founded in 2018. He is also an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University.
He came out with his hand-held hyperspectral crop leaf imager about seven-years ago after spending years developing the technology.
LeafSpec is one of 20 international start-up companies who are finalists in the GROW-NY Food and Ag Summit competition designed to enhance food, beverage and agriculture innovation in upstate New York. The competition is Nov. 14-15.
In addition to the $1 million grand prize, there are two $500,000 prizes and four $250,000 prizes.
Jin said there have been many large-scale plant phenotyping facilities and systems developed and used by major ag companies and academic institutions over the past 15 years.
However, he said the technology was miniaturized in the hand-held device at the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue.
“It’s gratifying to have built a tool that can impact the lives of growers and scientists around the world,” he said.
Leaf Spec, LLC has an exclusive license to manufacture and sell patent-pending Purdue developed hand-held plant phenotyping technology.
Plant phenotyping is the process of measuring and studying the physical characteristics of plants in areas like growth, development and response to environmental factors.
“Our handheld device and software can provide accurate and early detection of plant diseases, nutrient deficiencies and stresses from chemical sprays. This is done within seconds without damage to the plant,” Jin said.
Jim said the results are relayed to the smartphone of a farmer or scientist, which can guide users in making quicker and smarter decisions on fertilizing, spraying and irrigation.
The information shedding light on the specific health-related needs of the crop also can lead to lower input costs for achieving higher yields.
“The result is improved food security, additional crop resiliency and production that leads to more crops available for harvest and worldwide consumption,” he said.
Jin also told Inside Indiana Business he believes his company has an edge in the competition because of the exclusivity of the hand-held crop imager.
“When we innovated that about seven years ago, it was the world’s first handheld hyperspectral crop leaf imager of this type. And then seven years later, I haven’t seen any other institutes or other companies who are able to develop such kind of technology. So, we are still the only company which has this technology,” he said.
He also said the imager can be adjusted for different types of crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, tomatoes and rice.
Jin described the device as like a magic wand in terms of being easy to use and receiving quick results.
“With a corn leaf, we just use our handheld device to slide over very quickly and just a few seconds later you can see the nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and some of the major diseases and also some of the chemical spray damages,” he said.
Jin said the information goes into a data base to provide farmers a map of the field after multiple scannings.
He said winning the top prize would go a long way toward accomplishing his biggest challenges, which are manufacturing and marketing the hand-held crop scanning device.
Currently, the firm has a small number of technicians able to assemble the devices for customers, who represent about $350,000 in total sales.
Previously, Jin said only he was he was able to make about one device a year for sale commercially. Eventually, he believes the company could be the leader of a $10 billion digital agriculture market with help in manufacturing and marketing.
Jin said the potential for expansion is great within the research community but field scouting services to farmers will be introduced to improve accuracy of measuring corn nitrogen content to help in decision making.
“LeafSpec and Purdue are currently collaborating with major ag industry companies and fellow land-grant universities to test the technology for this market,” he said.