Working in the agricultural industry demands integrity and honesty. California Ag Today recently spoke with Aaron Magenheim with AgTech Insight, a global, full-spectrum agricultural and tech consulting firm based in Salinas. They are currently tracking 3,000 digital ag companies around the globe, allowing them to work with real companies to make a huge impact on the world’s food supply.
Magenheim started by selling weather stations 10 years ago when people started asking if he could help aid in soil moisture, imagery, and tracking equipment.
“I got to the point that I wasn’t going to a farmer saying, ‘I’m selling you something.’ I’m going to them saying, ‘Let’s see how we can improve processes and where you’re going,’” he said.
Magenheim’s focus is to help positively impact business for farmers.
Customer satisfaction is the main focus for AgTech Insight.
“If proper customer support is not achieved, then that piece of equipment is in the trash, and you are classified as a company that did not follow through,” Magenheim said. “This would result in an area where you cannot do business anymore.”
With So Many Electric Cars, Why Not Electric Tractors?
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
There are many different models of electric cars—they are even mainstream in most U.S. cities and other countries—and now farmers may soon have electric tractors to use in specialty crops in California.
Bakur Kvezereli is president and CEO of Ztractor, the first autonomous electric tractor for specialty crops. Kvezereli, who is based in Palo Alto, explained why the tractor is being developed in California.
“First, California is our market. Second, we teamed up with some great engineers, who graduated from Stanford, and my school, which was MIT. We were friends, and we wanted to look into this technology looking to replace the 25 or 30 HP diesel motor as well as the 30-gallon diesel,” he said.
“And we started as an electric tractor company in September 2017. And in two months, we realized that to achieve an electric tractor, you have to find a solution for making it autonomous,” Kvezereli explained.
“We now have three models in our manufacturing pipeline. One 24 horsepower will be available to the farmers this year. The next model will be a bigger tractor, 45 horsepower, which will be available 2020, and a 125 horsepower will be available in 2021.”
“Our basic tractor will have all the usual features found in most other tractors. The premium model line will have more features, especially on the software and hardware area. The zTractors will have no emissions and no hydraulics—just strong torque power.”
A four-hour charge will provide 6 to 10 hours of work in the field. “It requires only level two charging similar to car charging. “We are exploring a better battery, however currently it is the nickel ion technology,” Kvezereli said
“Horsepower is where we estimate the metrics for a tractor. What we think farmers care about is torque. In electric, to achieve higher torque is much easier than to achieve it with diesel power, and electric technology in general is very reliable for many types of tasks,” said Kvezereli.
The electric tractors keep the same three-point hitch as well as a PTO, both electrically operated.
“We build everything based on the requirements for the PTO and three-point hitch, and I think that’s what makes the Ztractor different from any other robotics companies that will provide a better tractor. It’s a general purpose and can replace a regular traditional tractor,” he said.
The main farming operations will be strawberry vineyards and vegetable operations. The tasks will include soil preparation and crop management. Harvest tasks are not yet available.
The prices for the tractors, calculated at $1,000 per horsepower, are similar to traditional tractors.
Looking beyond borders is helping find technology for agriculture, according to Adrian Percy, formerly with Bayer Crop Science and now the owner of Nomad Technology Consulting. And he is excited to bring new solutions to agriculture.
“One of the things that were apparent to me working at Bayer is that there was so much beyond our borders, a lot of exciting ag tech out of there, a lot of passionate entrepreneurs trying to make a difference and bring new solutions to agriculture,” Percy said. “However, when I left Bayer a few months ago, I dived in and began working with many new technology providers across the globe who are looking to bring new solutions to various areas of ag tech. I desire to help and advise them.”
Digitalization is clearly going to be one of those new areas in agriculture, and basically, it’s going to help ag in many ways.
“I think our growers make more informed decisions about how to manage their crop, and so whatever type of crop that will be, whether it comes to time for harvesting and other areas, I think this is all going to be enabled by digital tools,” Percy explained.
The use of drones and high-resolution cameras will be aiding in combating pests.
“Do you take the use of drones with high-resolution visualization cameras? There are companies now that can detect insects that are less than half a millimeter,” Percy said.
“You may be able to detect the arrival of early disease pressure in a field or early insect infestations and perhaps send out another drone to zap those critters and protect fields with minimum use of crop protection chemistry,” Percy continued.
Building trust will help data sharing at some level.
“They may have to share their data to trust in that process, and a lot of companies are working on how they can build that trust with growers,” Percy explained.
Percy said the need to farm sustainably would help farms in the future.
“I think the fundamentals have always been strong. I know we go through periods of difficulty with low margins and commodity prices, for example, which are not strong right now, but the need for the future and the need for sustainable farming is always going to be there.”
Bowles Farming is Major Innovator in Merced County
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
As every industry continues to be pressured by increasing technologies and the expectation to innovate, it is without question that agriculture is no different. With 160 years of experience growing various crops, Bowles Farming Co. in Merced County is not only a leader within the industry but strives to stand on the forefront of innovation.
Danny Royer, Vice President of Technology at Bowles, gave insight to California Ag Today recently as to how his company is using technology to make irrigation more efficient.
“There’s a lot that goes into the irrigation before it even gets to the farm,” he explained. “Our canal company that delivers our water is working on automating their system to meet our automation needs.”
Royer is utilizing water control and data gathering technology through innovative companies such as WaterBit and WiseConn to better regulate how Bowles Farming Co. resources are used.
He is in charge of the technology behind growing various crops, including tomatoes, cotton, wheat, watermelon, and other organic commodities. He said that the key to solving issues is by sharing data within the operation.
“Data is what’s going to provide the solution, but we have to create systems that give the people [the data] who have the competencies to solve the problem,” he explained.
One way Bowles Farming Co. is able to achieve this is by using Google Hangouts on the farm, which enables them to communicate with different sectors of the operation single-handedly.
“We’ve got to be a little more transparent and open about sharing our information with people that are coming from the tech sector trying to help us.”
Royer concluded, “the most important thing when we talk about tech and ag is talking about the impact on the operation … people’s jobs are going to change, how people function is going to change, and if you rule tech out, it’s going to be resisted.”
In a recent interview with California Ag Today, Dan Reighn, director of grower/shipper sales for iTrade, discussed how being a part of the system is helping the grower, shipper, supplier, and customers with iTrade’s efficiency by streamlining the process.
Cloud-based solution is key to the success of its speed. This will allow the information to flow quicker through all the channels by effectively being more beneficial to the grower, supplier, shipper, and inevitably the customer.
“The grower, shipper, and the supplier earn a lot of benefits when they are on our network every day transacting with 40 or 50 of their customers using an easy-to-use system, and we are able to handle that transaction for them rather than a purchase order being emailed or faxed or phone call,” Reighn explained.
iTrade is an efficient way to transact with buyers. It is a cloud-based software solution. There are carriers on the network to assist as well as field mobile systems that a grower can use at the source of picking. From that point, inventory can be done from the field to storage to assist the distribution.
“There are users in South America, Mexico, U.S. and Canada that are using our software on rugged mobile devices in the field,” Reighn said. “These customers are able to print off a PTI label, apply it to a case in the field as well as an electronic harvest tag. This also allows the supplier to know exactly what pallets, how much is in the field, when it is going to be received to the cooler, and when they can get that load off to Walmart or Safeway or Kroger.”
Julie Borlaug Honors her Famous Grandfather, Norman Borlaug, in Advancing Science in Agriculture
Editor’s Note: Julie Borlaug spoke recently at the 2016 Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, and shared with us the legacy of her Grandfather, Norman Ernest Borlaug, a man who used technology to ward off starvation and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, as well as the importance of advanced technology in Agriculture.
Julie Borlaug, associate director for external relations, Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, introduced the Institute’s mission, “We design and implement development and training programs. We take the legacy of my grandfather and we carry it out through the land-grant mission of teaching, research and extension. We’re primarily funded by organizations like USAID and USDA, so we truly are a development agency.”
Here is more of what she shared:
We all know why we care about agriculture and a lot of why we care is pretty much some of the same reasons my grandfather was up against during the green revolution. My grandfather was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and now a statue in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. However, when I speak about my grandfather I like to humanize him a little and make people realize he was a normal person and that anyone can, if they’re dedicated, change the world.
Growing up with him, we didn’t really know what he did. We just knew he flew through Dallas on his way to Mexico or Africa or India. In third grade, I took him to show and tell, and he was upstaged by a hamster. I think it was good for him.
When he got the Congressional Gold Medal I got to sit with him on stage and he had two minutes to talk. The entire Congress was shut down. At 10 minutes, Nancy Pelosi‘s staff [was] poking me from behind saying, “You’ve got to stop him.” I leaned forward to President Bush and I said, “They want him to stop. You’re the President.” He said, “This isn’t my thing, this is the Congressional.” Right at that point, I think we were about 18 minutes in, my grandfather said, “Poverty and hunger are fertile seeds for isms, and terrorism is one of them.” At that point Bush leaned back and said, “Don’t stop him now.”
My grandfather was many things. He was a warrior against hunger, he was a teacher, but first and foremost he was a scientist. He often said, “The fear of change is the greatest obstacle to progress.” He came down on the side of innovation and was known to be bold and quick.
He was a fierce advocate for innovation and technological change, especially when it came to developing countries and small-scale farmers. His most potent view of science was that man’s most advanced knowledge and technology should be used in the battle against hunger and poverty.
Like my grandfather’s green revolution, we have a huge challenge in front of us: How to feed 9 billion people. This is going to require new economic, political policies, new rounds of innovation, of technological advancements, but most importantly in agriculture, it will require a new way of agriculture to address things.
We have to change our thinking, we have to have new partners and we can’t be the traditional Ag and take a silo approach. We have to be interconnected, transformative, with greater transparency and we need to bring the life science technology entrepreneurs—everyone, even the medical community—to the table.
That’s one of the reasons why my grandfather’s green revolution was so successful. He realized he had to bring the government, economic infrastructure and technology together for the small-holder farmer for it truly to work, because agriculture alone cannot transform.
Like my grandfather, I strongly believe in biotechnology and innovation. I always get asked, “Can we feed 9 billion people?” My answer is yes, if we are allowed to. If my grandfather were here he’d say, “We are not going to be able to do this without science and without pushing the boundaries of innovation.”
To feed 9 billion we need to realize we have a new strain of fact-resistant humans and we have a lack of transparency, that’s all you can call them. I could call them something else, but that’s the most polite way.
We need to realize that our consumer is very different. We have mommy bloggers, we have foodies driving the conversation and the table is moving closer to the farm. We have all the misconceptions; a backyard garden is not farming.
Pretty backyard gardens with chickens running around is not going to feed the world. It takes more than that and we have a public who thinks that’s what it is. I always ask those people, if they want to go see reality, come with me to rural Kenya and let’s ask a female farmer what she needs. It’s seeds, inputs and technology.
We also have market confusion. We have vegan green beans, we have gluten-free cranberries, we have GMO-free beef. I was at an opening of Whole Foods a few years ago and there was a North Texas cattle company that was showing GMO-free beef and I had to walk over and ask what he meant. He said, “We do not genetically modify our cattle.” I said, “Well, of course you don’t. Do you mean you’re not giving feed that has been genetically modified?” He said, “No, no, no, we do that. We just don’t genetically modify our cattle.” It was great marketing.
We had GMO-free salt that sold at stores. I like that one. We have a public that believes everything on social media, especially what their 20-year-old yoga instructor says, who got a degree in nutrition online. We also have fear campaigns; look at what Greenpeace has done.
You cannot be anti-hunger and anti-innovation. If you are going to be anti-innovation, you better have a solution for us because we’re willing to accept it.
Innovation and NextGen
What’s really [fascinating] is where my grandfather would be excited about the future of Agriculture. My grandfather would be most excited about the gene revolution. We have gene-editing and synthetic biology. There are so many new solutions out there. We have a sharing economy, internet of everything, cloud biology, MachineryLink—something I’m involved in. It’s an uber platform for sharing of equipment.
In order to really get to my grandfather’s legacy, we have to remember that we are responsible for the next generation. We have to build the hunger-fighters that my grandfather built. The next generation is growing up with technology, they’re creative, they have bold ideas, they collaborate across discipline and they want change. We need to bring them to the table and support them.
When my grandfather got the Nobel Peace Prize, the Chair said, “Behind the outstanding results in the sphere of wheat research for which the dry statistics speak, we sense the presence of a dynamic, indomitable and refreshingly unconventional research scientist. We still need more of those today. It’s going to be unconventional partnerships and innovations that help us end hunger. Just remember, if we don’t allow it to happen here, if we try to ban the future of agriculture and innovation, it’s just going to happen somewhere else, and I think we want that to happen here.”
If my grandfather was here he would thank you for your dedication and he’d tell you to move faster, because there are 25,000 people who are going to die today while we’re debating future technologies. I think we need to always remember that.
Before he died he said he had a problem. This was when he was told he was going to pass away, and it was 3 days before he died. My mom and I asked what his problem was and he said it was Africa. “I never brought a green revolution to Africa.”
I quickly said, “All the hunger-fighters, everyone you’ve trained, everyone in this room is going to ensure we bring a green revolution to Africa that’s appropriate for each country and each area, and we will do that everywhere.” That is what you’re doing, but remember, your innovation and technology is only good when you take it to the farmer.