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Calgary’s Next Economy: Paramoria Agri-Science builds fungal early warning system

Brent Puchalski is building an early warning system of sorts, but it’s detecting things on a microbial level.

The company idea germinated back in 2016 when Puchalski was a grad student. It came when Puchalski entered a hackathon pitch competition with an idea. This idea was simply an extension of that one, Puchalski said.

But, the idea didn’t take root right away. Puchalski tried to make it work, but then gave up after a while. It was the emergence of new competition and COVID-19 filtering out the noise that sparked Puchalski into action.

In November 2021, in partnership with the University of Lethbridge, Puchalski launched Lethbridge-based Paramoria Agri-Sciences.  

They are a self-described plant pathology, ecological defence company.

“We’re developing what I call a microbial radar in which I’m able to detect the presence of spores or other infectious particles in a farmer’s field,” said Puchalski.

They want to provide Alberta farmers with tools and certainty to inform them their crops are safe from disease.

Trapping the spores

Puchalski said that fungicide applications can often be a very emotional response for Alberta growers. Up to 75 per cent of all applications are either off target or have no target at all, Puchalski said.

“…The standard best practice for ag, it’s just to apply as much fungicide as you think,” Puchalski said.

What Paramoria has developed is a spore trap. It’s a passive flow filter that collects spores in a roughly five- to six-acre patch. That filter is then analyzed for the appearance of damaging disease.

Puchalski said they can look at different areas weeks in advance. Producers will know specific area where the fungal spores are appearing, and they can spray those areas. That eliminates the need for a blanket spray of the entire area.

While the current model only allows for a smaller area, Puchalski said they’re aiming for a trap per quarter section. It would allow the farmer to triage the affected area and treat it quickly. They won’t have to wait for the ideal day with the right amount of time to spray all of their fields.

Scientist first, then entrepreneur

Puchalski said the involvement in Platform Calgary’s Junction Program is helping to realize how to meet customers at their level.

Puchalski’s accustomed to being the scientist and not the businessperson.

“I don’t really have the business acumen always to know what I’m handling; especially in regards to marketing and digital marketplaces,” Puchalski said.

Technical founders tend to be stuck more on the product side, making sure the product works as promised. Puchalski is confident in the science part. Learning the fundamentals of the customers and of running is business is helping propel Paramoria forward.

They had a customer collection phase last summer, along with a field test. The product was validated and now they’re looking to push it out to 100 fields this year.

“We’re still very rough to work out the kinks of what actually the customer experience is and what they want,” Puchalski said.

They’re also working on a potential phone app. 

From there, it’s expansion across Western Canada. Puchalski said it can save farmers time and money. Fungicide is expensive compared to insecticide.

“There’s a lot of this situation of just, ‘oh, I have the chance. I dunno. I’m going to go do this,’” Puchalski said.

“Then I go talk with them two weeks later and they kick the tires, like, ‘I uhhhh… sprayed and spent $40,000.’ Should I have done that? No.”