Nov 20, 2020
NuPhY Inc. acquires assets, licenses of former Phytelligence

Taking root in the remains of a now defunct start up, NuPhY is a new agricultural technology company headed up by Washington State University professor of horticulture Amit Dhingra.

The new WSU spin-out was revitalized after NuPhY Inc., an affiliate of the Cowles Co. of Spokane, acquired the assets and technology licenses of the former Phytelligence.

Cowles Co. CFO, Steve Rector, said in a news release that Cowles had initially invested in Phytelligence in 2016 after seeing that it was purveying a much-needed suite of technologies and services that answered needs and solved problems identified by growers.

Specializing in horticultural crops including apples, cherries and pears, NuPhY provides plants that are disease-free and genetically confirmed to be true to type. Using an optimized quality- controlled propagation process called MultiPHY the new company produces high-quality, healthy plants.

The health of plants is a major issue in horticulture. MultiPHY is especially relevant for sweet cherry, a major Pacific Northwest Crop, which is being seriously impacted by Little Cherry Virus-2, a disease affecting nearly 50% of total production. Virus-caused diseases are a major threat to most horticultural crops.

Variety integrity is also a critical need. As NuPhY customer and Royal Bluff Orchards owner Jim Jackson says, “When you’re investing $53 per tree” to buy land and develop an orchard, “having the right variety and being able to prove it is significant.” NuPhY’s genetic testing service has already served 45 industry customers.

Established in 1982 near Royal City, Washington, Jackson’s operation recently planted about 100,000 trees purchased from NuPhY. With several varieties of apple and cherry, the new orchard is all organic and that, says Jackson, made the purchase of disease- and virus-free rootstock critical.

While long known in the inland Pacific Northwest as a media company owning newspapers and TV stations, the Cowles Co. has, in the past 10 years, gone into venture investing. Rector says he manages a portfolio of 43 companies, many with innovative technology solutions.

“Ag tech is an up-and-coming space,” Rector said, “and Dhingra is well-respected in that space. We’re glad that the technology he and his team developed at WSU is living on through NuPhY. We’re committed to continuing to provide it to growers in Washington and beyond. It’s like getting the band back together, as Amit has surrounded himself with the wonderful team that helped create and develop the technologies and services that NuPhY offers.”

Dhingra said he’s “delighted to be able to continue to serve the needs of the horticulture industry. Bringing the technologies we developed in our research program at WSU to market immediately is, for me, an extension of the university’s land-grant mission as these innovations can benefit our farmers economically.”

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