Ag Start Provides a Place to Start for Agriculture Innovations

California Ag Start Helps Startup Companies

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

With the help of corporate sponsors, new agriculture technology companies are making strides to improve efficiency for growers. California Ag Start, a nonprofit incubator for startup companies in the food and agricultural technology sector, is helping to process these sponsors and support innovations throughout the industry.

“We have access to our corporate sponsors who are also in the Ag Technology space, and we can access some of their science and other professionals as mentors to these startup companies,” said John Selep, President of AgTech Innovation Alliance—the 501(c)3 non-profit behind Ag Start.

One of the ways Ag Start is helping to improve efficiency in the field comes from a company using hyperspectral imagery to check nutrients in soils. “They can actually do almost a continuous scan as a plow is going through the field and develop a continuous map of the nutrient profile within that soil,” Selep explained.

Typically, when a grower tests their soil, they pick two to three spots to sample from and will not receive data on it for a couple of days. According to Selep, hyperspectral scanning will not only help eliminate that wait time, but will provide a much more detailed analysis of the entire field.

“You’d be much more precise about where you put nutrients. Just enough in the places it’s needed as opposed to blanketing the field and pouring on gallons of fertilizer,” Selep said.

Karen Ross on Ag Innovation

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross on Ag Innovation


The next big thing is always right around the corner. Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said while that may be so, farmers should be consulted to help with ag innovation–the creation of the next big thing–so both farmers and innovators will benefit.

“Here’s what we need to go to the next generation of innovation, so come talk to us early; don’t just come and say ‘we’ve got your solution,’” Ross said. “We manage a vast biological system, a complex system on the farming side, that responds to fast-moving markets on the consumer side. So don’t divorce yourself from us in the industry. Truly understand what we need and how we put together all these complex moving parts to meet consumer needs and expectations in the marketplace.”

Ross said while farmers are always willing to listen to a new way of doing things, involving them in the process and providing access to the data that demonstrates the need for a new product would be more beneficial.

“Farmers are always open to ‘is there a better way?’” Ross said. “But they want the data. They like to see some demonstration of that data—which comes back to partnering with our academic institutions and Cooperative Extension. Don’t just come out and sell me something; show me the data; show me the demonstration projects. Let me kick the tires. Maybe, I’ll put in a few acres of that this year. It’s not just a sales job. You’ve got to partner with the farmer. And if you do, you’re going to come up with a much better product.”