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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
It’s no secret that technology is more advanced than it’s ever been, and the agriculture industry is no exception. Rudy Monnich, president of Caltec Ag, is helping to ensure that growers are provided with new and innovative technology to improve their crops.
Caltec Ag is a consulting and contract researching group based out of Modesto. They have been in business for about 64 years, and throughout their farming and research, they know firsthand that advanced technologies are key to progressive farming. Not only do they distribute products throughout the United States, but Monnich explained that this year, they are doing over 300 test blocks, mostly on crop protection materials that are all new and innovative.
Research between Caltec Ag and a company they work with led to the discovery of a new organic bacteria that Monnich described as “just phenomenal.”
He also highlighted the effectiveness and efficiency of drones that the company was able to observe in Japan. Not only was the drone able to spray specific locations of a field versus the entire thing, but it was more effective when it came to getting photographs and the data behind it.
“That’s what’s really important to the growers,” Monnich said.
Thanks to recent headway in RoboBee research and development, these mechanized pollinators could be headed to a greenhouse near you soon.
Guest Editorial By Tim Jennings, President of Custom Case Group, Maker of DroneHangar
My company has been manufacturing custom cases in the drone and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry for decades. Because we’re involved in so many facets—from the military to the consumer and agricultural segments—my team is often privy to advancements early on. Being a drone enthusiast myself, I try to keep up with the latest developments on my own time, too.
Today, some of the most exciting activity I’m seeing is in the field of agricultural drones, where researchers are making major progress toward mainstreaming RoboBees—tiny drones capable of pollination and other forms of indoor crop maintenance. While open-air agricultural applications, such as crop scouting and pesticide application, are now standard, there’s been little progress in indoor agriculture applications—until now.
New microdrone research in the U.S. and Spain could soon allow RoboBees to run greenhouses and large-scale indoor farms around the globe.
“RoboBees” – The Pollinators of the Future
RoboBees have been on the scene for some time through a collaborative project between teams at Harvard University and Northeastern University. The teams have been working together about 12 years to create “swarms” of tiny worker drones capable of tethered flight. The drones, with wingspans of just 1.2 inches, weigh less than real bees, but, tiny as they are, RoboBees are the result of some intense collaboration among experts in dozens of fields, including neurobiology, computer science and chemical engineering.
The Latest Advancements
Perching & Takeoff. It seems simple: Design a tiny drone that can take off and land easily. However, perching and takeoff have turned out to be among the most critical functions and toughest challenges in RoboBee development. This year, though, the Harvard team may have a breakthrough. The functions of perching and takeoff are critical because they allow the drones to “rest,” protecting them from the mechanical fatigue and power drain of constant flight. The team reported the possible breakthrough in an article in the journal Science titled, “Perching and Takeoff of a Robotic Insect on Overhangs Using Switchable Electrostatic Adhesion,” where they suggest that electrostatic forces allow the small drones to “stick” to different surfaces, such as plant leaves. And the power required to generate those forces is less than what’s needed to keep the RoboBee in flight.
Indoor Environmental Mapping. Large drones that can map and negotiate complex outdoor environments have been around a while; however, small size has been a major limitation in the development of drones capable of indoor mapping. So far, the massive data collection and processing necessary for environmental mapping requires a machine too large for indoor use. But that may be changing.
This year, a research team from the Centre for Automation and Robotics in Spain published a paper titled “Heterogeneous Multi-Robot System for Mapping Environmental Variables of Greenhouses” in the journal Sensors, where they describe a heterogeneous robot team capable of monitoring the environmental variables inside greenhouses. They call the drone team, which includes aerial and ground drones, a “system” that understands and negotiates its surroundings by way of a shared multi-sensor application.
The drones within the system, some of which have cameras for visual monitoring, can also measure factors like soil and air temperature, humidity, luminosity and carbon dioxide concentrations in the greenhouse environment.
It could be a couple more years before RoboBee teams will totally manage indoor crops. But advancements like that above ensure this tech is headed to the mainstream fast. What are your thoughts on drone automation for indoor agriculture? Where do you see this tech bringing the industry in the next 20 years?
Feel free to share on the California Ag Today Facebook page; we’re interested in knowing what you think.
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).
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.
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 forInnovation & Technologycoming 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.
Irrigation E3 Leader Awards Go to Two California Faculty
The Irrigation Foundation has named 15 outstanding students and faculty as winners of the 2015 Irrigation E3 Program. The Foundation selected two faculty 2015 Irrigation E3 Leaders, both in California, Florence Cassel, Fresno State andTim Ellsworth, West Hills College Coalinga.
This year’s class of faculty and students will receive an all-expenses-paid trip next week to the Irrigation Show & Education Conference, Nov. 9 – 13, in Long Beach, Calif.
Founded in 2012, the E3 program provides students and faculty with exposure, experience and education in the irrigation industry. Academics nominate outstanding students for consideration as E3 Learners and/or apply to become E3 Leaders themselves.
To qualify to apply for Irrigation E3 Leader status, an instructor must be teaching, or will be teaching within the next six months, irrigation-related coursework at a North American community college, university or similar institution of higher learning. Prior winners may not reapply.
Chosen faculty will have the opportunity to participate in education classes, industry sessions and networking events. Working with academics is essential to the Foundation’s mission of attracting people to careers in irrigation by supplying the irrigation industry with educated professionals. Faculty members help shape the future career paths of their students and keeping instructors up-to-date on the latest and greatest in the irrigation industry is a must.
“This is the fourth year of the program, and the Foundation is sending a record number of students to the show,” said senior foundation manager Janine Sparrowgrove. “We are excited to give the students and faculty the opportunity to attend classes and gain exposure to industry companies and technologies.”
Florence Cassel Sharma, Assistant Professor Irrigation/Water Management, Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Department of Plant Science, California State University, Fresno researches optimizing water use efficiency through low and deficit irrigation practices, improving irrigation scheduling, and utilizing remote sensing techniques for water resources management, crop water use, and soil salinity assessment. Assistant director of research of the Center for Irrigation Technology, Sharma is a recipient of the 2009 Outstanding Research and Scholarly Activity Award for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.
Tim Ellsworth, agriculture technology instructor at West Hills College Coalinga, researches primarily soil science with a focus on precision agriculture and nutrient management. He currently serves on the advisory board for the Canadian Biochar Consortium.
Prior to West Hills, Ellsworth was a professor and faculty director of the online master’s program for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a soil scientist with the USDA U.S. Salinity Laboratory, a visiting faculty member at the Centre for Water Research, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Western Australia in Perth and a senior scientist performing hazard assessments and hazard evaluations for the U.S. Army with regard to management of the U.S. Army Chemical Weapon Stockpile.
This year’s Irrigation E3 Learners are:
Samia Amiri, Oklahoma State University
Garrett Banks, Colorado State University
Colton Craig, Oklahoma State University
Spencer Davies, Brigham Young University
Daniel Greenwell, Auburn University
John Hawkins, Alamance Community College
Tsz Him Lo, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Michelle Mbia, Prairie View A&M University
Ryan McBride, Brigham Young University, Idaho
Alan Rourke, Kansas State University
Daniel Selman, Brigham Young University
Amandeep Vashisht, Colorado State University
Christopher Weathers, Mira Costa College
Toro Company is the lead sponsor and the Carolina’s Irrigation Association is a supporting sponsor for this year’s program.