Creating a link between growers and the distributions of their commodities is becoming increasingly difficult. Aaron Magenheim with AgTech Insight based out of Salinas is helping to create a more efficient communication system to bring supply chains together.
Magenheim described a situation last year where Walmart required IBM technology in order to sell leafy greens, but when growers asked how to implement the technology, they could not get a clear answer. “We need to help move this industry forward and have the right people that work together and understand the right direction,” he said.
Another issue Magenheim has seen is the lack of data on failed trials. This is especially a problem in California, where there is a constant push to test new products. Whether it be hiring an analytics team or making sure growers record their ROI (return on investment), Magenheim said organization is the key to moving forward.
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.
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.”
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.