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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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AgTech—The New Frontier for Farming

AgTech: Bringing Agriculture and Technology Together for Success

by Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Aaron Magenheim, an innovative leader in the AgTech movement, helps startups and investment companies understand production farming in California to bridge the disconnect between farmers and evolving technology. Enabling farmers to be on the cutting edge of technology has been key to the success of his company, Ag Tech Insight (ATI).

Aaron Magenheim, AgTech Insight founder
Aaron Magenheim, AgTech Insight founder

Magenheim grew up in a family agricultural irrigation business on the Central Coast, Signature Irrigation, and has supported growers his whole life. Four years ago he started Signature AgTech, a stand-alone agriculture technology company, which sells, installs and supports various technologies for growers on the Central Coast and in the Salinas Valley.

The turning point occurred when, according to Magenheim, “I started spending a lot more time in Silicon Valley, and about two years ago I saw a huge disconnect among bright people with great ideas, a lot of money coming into the market and the knowledge that many farmers have absolutely no clue there are solutions 50-100 miles away.”

“That’s when I started AgTech Insight,” Magenheim continued. “I had no clue what we were going to do with it. We have evolved through a number of different situations and built a great team. We started doing meet-ups about a year and a half ago, and we have done nine or ten of them now.”

“We’re at the point now where we are getting collaboration from the city of Salinas and other Monterey Bay economic entities coming together to work with us to build meet-ups and more activity in the area.”

Helping Growers Understand

“As we’ve talked with growers and helped them understand what technology can do to them,” Magenheim explained, “we have also raised money for some companies through grower funding to develop technology and installed in the field. Through that process, we have found growers are really interested in working with and helping early-stage companies. But the value proposition has changed; growers used to have a good value proposition to help an early stage company because they would get use for two or three years of a new technology in their operation before someone else did and profit from that.”

“We’re starting the AgTech Grower’s Alliance (ATGA) —a next generation, ag industry-backed ecosystem to advance the development of AgTech businesses,” Magenheim detailed. “From prototype to market expansion, ATGA, a catalyst for the adoption of technology in agriculture, is basically putting a fund together to allow growers to invest in early stage companies before they’ve put a million dollars into their product, and develop their idea from concept to a scalable point that attracts Silicon Valley [investment],” Magenheim said.

ATGA is growing, even outside of California. “We’re stamping out a satellite in the Turlock area,” Magenheim stated, “and I’m heading to Chicago tomorrow to meet with groups of growers to establish another satellite in that area. This can happen in a lot of different regions—bringing the technology together. It’s really a community effort bringing the growers together,” he said.

Field-level actions

Magenheim wants to track equipment and improve collection of in-field data. “I want to be able to go to a field and see when it was disced, when it was listed, when it was watered, when it was planted, when we should harvest, and what that projected harvest is going to be,” he elaborated. “We have a lot of companies working on software and big data and Internet of Things (IOT) and that’s great; but if you can’t get that information from the field, and you don’t have a place to pull the data from, then it doesn’t exist. We really concentrate on a lot of field-level actions.”

“People are coming from schools such as California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and Hartnell College in Salinas, and from all over the country at this point,” Magenheim said, “whether they are educators or students trying to understand where their opportunities are. Growers come to our events to learn and understand where technology is going and how their operations can benefit. Then you have a lot of technology people. We get people from Silicon Valley and from Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology coming down to hear what the growers are talking about and looking for.”

_______________

Over the past 45 years, Ag Tech Insight (ATI) team members have been integrating the best ideas and advancements available to the agriculture industry, including designing, building, and implementing new tractor equipment; revolutionizing row crop irrigation by incorporating drip tape in Salinas Valley; and starting drip tape recycling programs and hydrostatic harvesting. AgTech has brought dozens of new software solutions to the market, from multiple GPS asset tracking systems to world-leading data collection and remote management. Recently AgTech diversified and significantly improved current monitoring and control systems for some of the largest names in the agricultural industry.

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