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.

Digital Technology in Agriculture Will Grow Faster

Digital Technology is Making Huge Leaps in Ag

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Digital technology is making huge leaps in agriculture. California Ag Today recently spoke with Kirk Haney, CEO of Radicle Growth, a venture capitalist fund concentrated on developing new, innovative companies focused on food, agriculture, health, and sustainability. Agriculture and construction are considered the least digitized industries in the world.

“Everything is digital, everything is being managed, measured, and it is going to happen in agriculture in the same way not only as digital is coming but it brings competition with data sharing,” Haney said.

According to him, if you do not start capturing your data and then sharing it in a way that is going to make you more competitive, your business is going to struggle.

“In terms of the incredible entrepreneurship that we are seeing, the speed at which technology is changing, processing power, chips, the power of iPhones—we are talking about the power of cloud computing and [in] another two years, the power of cloud computing will be in the palm of your hand … on the 5G network,” he said.

The cloud computing will change the way that farmers run their operations. The data stored on these devices will only help farmers increase their precision and improve their farming practices.

Truly, ag is the last frontier, and Haney believes that satellites will soon be used to detect bugs in fields.

“New camera vision technologies can actually, through thermal infrared, spot early pest detection to check out and treat whatever you need to do,” Haney said.

UC DroneCamp Coming June 18-20

UC Offers Drone Workshop for Mapping, Research, and Land Management

By Pam Kan-Rice, UC Ag & Natural Resources

People who are interested in using drones for real-world mapping are invited to attend a three-day intensive drone workshop in the Monterey Bay area. The third annual DroneCamp will be offered from June 18 to 20 by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Informatics and GIS Program. No experience with drone technology is needed to participate.

Drone mapping involves taking high-resolution photos with drones and stitching them together with software to make extremely accurate, orthorectified maps. More difficult than videography, it is widely used in agriculture, construction, archeology, surveying, facilities management, and other fields. DroneCamp will cover all the topics someone needs to make maps with drones, including:

  • Technology—the different types of drone and sensor hardware, costs and applications
  • Drone science—principles of photogrammetry and remote sensing
  • Safety and regulations—learn to fly safely and legally, including tips on getting your FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate
  • Mission planning—flight planning tools and principles for specific mission objectives
  • Flight operations—hands-on practice with both manual and programmed flights
  • Data processing—processing drone data into orthomosaics and 3D digital surface models; assessing quality control
  • Data analysis—techniques for analyzing drone data in GIS and remote sensing software
  • Visualization—create 3D models of your data
  • Latest trends—hear about new and upcoming developments in drone technology, data processing, and regulations

On the first day, DroneCamp instructors will discuss drone platforms, sensor technologies, and regulations. On the following two days, participants will receive hands-on instruction on flying safely, using automated flight software, emergency procedures, managing data, and turning images into maps using Pix4D mapper and ArcGIS Pro.

Registration is $900 for the general public and $500 for University of California students and employees. Registration includes instruction, materials, flight practice and lunches. Scholarships are available.

This year, DroneCamp is being held in conjunction with the Monterey Bay DART (Drones Automation & Robotics Technology), which is holding an industry symposium on Friday, June 21. DroneCamp participants get a $50 discount to attend the symposium.

For more information and to register for DroneCamp, please complete the registration form at http://igis.ucanr.edu/dronecamp. Registration fees are due by June 1, 2019.

When it Comes to Drones, No Limit with Aerobotics

Aerobotics Drones Detects Disease Early in Orchards

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

Drones are continuing to make a big appearance in the agriculture industry, and with new technology from Aerobotics, they’re not leaving the sky any time soon. James Paterson, co-founder and CEO of Aerobotics, has news of a fully automatic solution for collecting aerial data fields to help maintain healthier trees.

“It’s to detect disease problems in the orchard, and the reason that’s such a difficult problem is that it’s done as a manual process at the moment, called scouting,” Paterson said.

Although scouting has always been a go-to method, it only guarantees certain points of the field to be checked. Paterson said that the new Aerobotics system will allow the entire farm to be monitored down to each individual tree.

“So what our system does is it tracks each tree, and if it identifies that a tree is under stress, it sends a scouting route to the user’s smartphone for them to go and investigate,” Paterson explained.

Aerobotics has a network of accessible drones available for those farmers who do not have their own. All they need is the software system, and to visit aerobotics.com to get started.

Nomad Technology Consulting: Digital Technology For Ag

There are Ag Tech Providers Around the World

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

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.”

AgTech Experts At Recent AgTechx Event at Bayer Crop Science’s West Sacramento Research Facility, sponsored by Western Growers Association.

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 Co. Shares Success Secrets

Google Hangouts Helps Bowles Farming Communicate Throughout 

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

When it comes to agriculture, Merced County-based Bowles Farming Company has it figured out. With 160 years of experience, and six generations worth of history, the company has had a major influence on the state. Danny Royer, Vice President of Technology at Bowles, has valuable insight on what makes the company so successful.

Royer 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 said.

Innovation is Bowles Farming Co.’s #1 Objective

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.”

WG Center for Innovation and Tech Celebrates Three Years

WG Center Brings Technology to Ag

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

The Western Growers Association’s WG Center for Innovation and Technology in Salinas is turning three years old. Dennis Donahue, mayor of Salinas from 2006 to 2012 and currently the consulting director at the center, spoke to California Ag Today recently about the anniversary.

This center houses more than 50 ag-tech startup companies and is a hub for new developments in ag-tech with services ranging from infield robotics to renewable energy.

“The reality is you have to be making progress on all these things all the time,” Donahue said.fsma food safety flags in the field mean stop harvest here

The agriculture industry as a whole is facing many problems, including water supply, labor supply, water quality, and crop protection. And that’s why it’s so crucial for these startups to keep coming up with these new innovative solutions.

“Labor is a challenge because it’s getting tougher,” Donahue said. “The cost issues are—the supply issues are—intensifying, so that puts a lot of pressure on the automation piece and proof of concept, particularly in the field.”

“How do you get something crop off the ground, out of an orchard or clipped from a vineyard? That’s going to occupy a lot of time, cost efficiency, and technology. Those things are at best with some focus at three- to five-year play, and our problems may come a little sooner,” Donahue explained.

“California agriculture and the folks we deal with in the Western Growers network are bound and determined to address these problems. We often get a real dose of realism. ‘Look, here are the issues. Here are some of the things that haven’t been working well, and we need to work better, and we need to work faster.’ But, there’s no quittin’ the dog. You know, I think the industry is fully engaged, understands the challenges, and we’ve got a pretty good group of people determined to meet them on both the ag and technology side.”

Agriculture Struggles Unnecessarily, According to Steve Forbes

Forbes Chairman Has Suggestions to Help

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Water and labor are major agricultural issues in California. California Ag Today recently spoke with Steve Forbes, chairman and editor in chief of Forbes Media, about the topics.

“I think that the more people are realizing the enormous opportunities of technology in agriculture. They think that it is going to get better and better in the future,” Forbes said.Everything from reservoirs to desalination plants should be modeled after Israel. They have been building desalination plants because Israel is in a desert where they have been getting rainfall.

Steve Forbes

“This is a very sophisticated use of water in agriculture where they are a real global power,” Forbes said.

Today, Israel uses 10 percent less water as a whole, not per capita, than they did 70 years ago despite the economy being 60 times larger.

Forbes thinks labor is also an issue.

“We are hurting ourselves, our food production, not just in agriculture but construction as well,” he said.

Forbes said we should recycle the programs that we once had, programs where returning people come in for specific time periods for specific jobs. This would help prevent the illegal immigrant problem because workers know they can come back.

On another note, he discussed the current trade war that the U.S. is in with China.

“If you hear 10 percent tariff on aluminum, that’s a 10 percent sales tax; put it that way and people’s eyes go up and they get it right away,” Forbes said.

Putting sales taxes on American consumers, agriculture, farmers, and businesses is not the best way to resolve very real trade abuses.

“Everyone knows from the disaster and the depression of the 1930s what trade wars can lead to,” Forbes said.

Forbes also explained that GMOs greatly benefit producers and should not be attacked as harmful to consumers.

“GMOs have been studied fairly well, and they are making food more plentiful. It makes food a safer in terms that you don’t have to use as many pesticides,” he said. “GMOs make a better use of water, and there is a lot less loss to diseases and insects. We are using human ingenuity to make the human condition better.”

Farmers Add Emotional Connection to Food

Bayer Reports Consumers Still Trust Farmers

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Adrian Percy, Global Head of Research and Development for Bayer Crop Science, told California Ag Today recently that he believes the public still trusts farmers.

“There’s a high degree of trust,” he said, “and I think that comes from the fact that there is an emotional connection with food and the fact that growers are known to be trying to work sustainably. Growers look from generation to generation in terms of passing the farm down, oftentimes, and I think that is still understood by the public, even if people have a few reservations about some of the technologies we use in agriculture.”

According to a recent Bayer global study about consumers, Percy reported, “We are seeing, not just in the U.S., but also in the Europe, South America and Asia, a lot of questions coming up around agriculture. As an agricultural input company, we think it’s our role to help understand this [phenomenon], first of all. We think it is very important for us to help activate—be it farmers or other folks in the industry—to come out and talk about agriculture, enter into dialogue with consumers and explain what we do.”

Commenting on some of the study’s most interesting revelations, Percy said, “It was interesting just asking the general question, ‘Do you believe that innovation in agriculture is actually important?’ And people came back, ‘Yes, we do believe that we need to innovate. We do see that there is a need to feed a growing population and that we need to help farmers farm more sustainably with better tools.’”

On the other hand, Percy explained that consumers drew the line, “when we quizzed them about the individual tools. People don’t necessarily like the idea of chemicals on the farm or GM technology in certain cases in certain parts of the world. So those are the types of discussions that we need to really go into.”