John Hartnett on Forbes AgTech and Urban Appreciation for Agriculture
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Forbes AgTech Summit
John Hartnett, founder and CEO of Los Gatos-based SVG Partners LLC, a Silicon Valley area investment and advisory firm, has played a pivotal role in the organization of the Forbes AgTech Summitin Salinas every summer. Hartnett said before partnering with Forbes, “we ran the first one here in Salinas and another one in Monterey. Two hundred people attended the Monterey Innovation Summit.”
“Then we partnered with Forbes and it brought us to a whole new level. Partnering with Forbes for the past two of four major AgTech Summits,”has been great,” Hartnett said. “Last year we had 400 people. This year, we had 700 people. Increased attendance has put Salinas on the map of being the center of AgTech.
“I bring leaders from technology and agriculture together,” Hartnell said. “It is a great event for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to be onstage and get recognition in front of investors, customers and key business people they will work with.”
“Having Forbes and the Ag industry from across the country here in the heart of Salinas is phenomenal. We’ve executed this overall plan well. We are delighted with the outcomes.”
The next Forbes AgTech Summit will convene again in Salinas on June 28-29, 2017.
Beyond AgTech, Harnett said helping urban American populations understand the rural Ag community is one of the agricultural industry’s biggest challenges. “The first thing you need to do is bring people around the table. I’m a consumer of food. I am the end user of what’s going on, but many people just don’t understand the supply chain.”
“They understand some of the water challenges at a high level because these issues are in everybody’s face today. This is part of the education process and it starts by bringing people and key groups together.”
“What we’re doing, in small part, is focusing on technological leaders and companies from Palo Alto and San Francisco that are coming, probably for the first time, to Salinas. They are absolutely impressed and blown away by what is actually here. And, instead of driving past farms, they are going into the farms.”
Calif. Lt. Governor Newsom Says Ag is at a Hinge-Moment in History
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
In an exclusive interview with Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, during the recent Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, Newsom declared, “It’s interesting about California—outside of Hollywood—no two more iconic industries exist than Silicon Valley’s technology, and the agricultural industry.
“It seems self-evident to everybody here that we have a unique opportunity to collaborate,” Newsom said about the event which joined the Silicon Valley high tech industry with the state’s farming industry to create digital solutions for agriculture. “We have the unique opportunity based on proximity and based on history. It is also a cultural opportunity as it relates to relationships that have been formed over the course of generations to begin to build bridges and connect some dots.”
Newsom said he believes in bottom-up inspiration, not top-down. “I don’t think you can sell down your vision from Sacramento. It’s about regions rising together and creating conditions for just these type of collaborations,” he said.
Newsom particularly appreciated comments about innovation. “I wrote a book, [“Citizenville”] and I’m not here to promote that book,” said Newsom, “but the whole idea was about platform thinking. The concept is the federal government, state government, and even local government cannot prescribe a federal, state or local pill for every problem,” he said.
“The point is,” he continued, “if we’re going to solve the big problems of the day, we have to create an environment—a platform—to engage folks like yourselves to deliver the applications, literally and figuratively, to solve big problems. It’s self-evident to anyone who lives here in California, that we’ve got some big problems.”
“We have regulatory challenges in this state, and I say this as a business person with many businesses. I have a sense of kindred connection in spirit to the entrepreneurial ways that are here today,” he commented. Owner of three wineries, several restaurants and hotels, Newsom stated, “I am in the Ag business, of sorts. My point is, we could do a lot better to make a point that [agriculture] matters and we care,” he said.
“At the same time,” he added, “Silicon Valley is center-tip of the spear—all the innovation and discovery, and the change in the way we live, work and play,” Newsom said.
“We’re here on a hinge-moment in history where we are going from something old to something new, a world of mobile, local, and social; and cloud and crowd. It’s a moment of anxiety for a lot of people, a moment of merger—the detonation of globalization and technology coming together. Again, there’s a lot of anxiety,” he noted.
Newsom suggested this is an opportune time to try to connect dots and address challenges, not just on the regulatory side and on the economic development side in this state, but also on the self-evident issues of water scarcity in this state. “You may have different opinions about climate change, global warming or violent disruption,” said Newsom, “but, as a guy who told me the other day up in Dutch Flat, Placer County, ‘I don’t care about all you folks from San Francisco talking about climate change, but something just ain’t right.’ Which is another way of describing a connection that things have changed,” Newsom explained.
Newsom said that kind of predictive nature, in terms of how we construct a water system for a world that no longer exists, and for a population that is twice the size; self-evidently, we have to do things differently. “We’ve got to be more creative and we’ve got to be more strategic,” he noted.
“It’s a long way of saying we are grateful for the work [California farmers] are doing. The goal for us in California is to make these conversations sustainable. ‘Not just situational and not just one annual conversation, but these are dialogs that must continue every day in this state,” Newsom said.
“I’m one of those people who believes in the combination of nature and technology, bringing cross-disciplines together,” Newsom said. “Cross-pollinating, literally and figuratively, ideas and people—values. “I think we have an incredible opportunity here in California, not just to survive in the agricultural industry but to truly thrive in a growing, competitive environment.”
The State is Sinking, and Its Wealthy Class Is Full of Hypocrites
Editor’s note: We thank Victor Davis Hanson for his contribution to California Ag Today’ CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND.
By Victor Davis Hanson
There was more of the same-old, same-old California news recently. Some 62 percent of state roads have been rated poor or mediocre. There were more predications of huge cost overruns and yearly losses on high-speed rail—before the first mile of track has been laid. One-third of Bay Area residents were polled as hoping to leave the area soon.
Such pessimism is daily fare, and for good reason.
The basket of California state taxes—sales, income, and gasoline—rate among the highest in the U.S. Yet California roads and K-12 education rank near the bottom.
After years of drought, California has not built a single new reservoir. Instead, scarce fresh aqueduct water is still being diverted to sea. Thousands of rural central-California homes, in Dust Bowl fashion, have been abandoned because of a sinking aquifer and dry wells.
One in three American welfare recipients resides in California. Almost a quarter of the state population lives below or near the poverty line. Yet the state’s gas and electricity prices are among the nation’s highest.
One in four state residents was not born in the U.S. Current state-funded pension programs are not sustainable.
California depends on a tiny elite class for about half of its income-tax revenue. Yet many of these wealthy taxpayers are fleeing the 40-million-person state, angry over paying 12 percent of their income for lousy public services.
Public-health costs have soared as one-third of California residents admitted to state hospitals for any causes suffer from diabetes, a sometimes-lethal disease often predicated on poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive weight.
Nearly half of all traffic accidents in the Los Angeles area are classified as hit-and-run collisions.
Grass-roots voter pushbacks are seen as pointless. Progressive state and federal courts have overturned a multitude of reform measures of the last 20 years that had passed with ample majorities.
In impoverished central-California towns such as Mendota, where thousands of acres were idled due to water cutoffs, once-busy farmworkers live in shacks. But even in opulent San Francisco, the sidewalks full of homeless people do not look much different.
What caused the California paradise to squander its rich natural inheritance?
Excessive state regulations and expanding government, massive illegal immigration from impoverished nations, and the rise of unimaginable wealth in the tech industry and coastal retirement communities created two antithetical Californias.
One is an elite, out-of-touch caste along the fashionable Pacific Ocean corridor that runs the state and has the money to escape the real-life consequences of its own unworkable agendas.
The other is a huge underclass in central, rural, and foothill California that cannot flee to the coast and suffers the bulk of the fallout from Byzantine state regulations, poor schools, and the failure to assimilate recent immigrants from some of the poorest areas in the world.
The result is Connecticut and Alabama combined in one state. A house in Menlo Park may sell for more than $1,000 a square foot. In Madera, three hours away, the cost is about one-tenth of that.
In response, state government practices escapism, haggling over transgender-restroom and locker-room issues and the aquatic environment of a three-inch baitfish rather than dealing with a sinking state.
What could save California?
Blue-ribbon committees for years have offered bipartisan plans to simplify and reduce the state tax code, prune burdensome regulations, reform schools, encourage assimilation and unity of culture, and offer incentives to build reasonably priced housing.
Instead, hypocrisy abounds in the two Californias.
If Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg wants to continue lecturing Californians about their xenophobia, he at least should stop turning his estates into sanctuaries with walls and security patrols. And if faculty economists at the University of California at Berkeley keep hectoring the state about fixing income inequality, they might first acknowledge that the state pays them more than $300,000 per year — putting them among the top 2 percent of the university’s salaried employees.
Immigrants to a diverse state where there is no ethnic majority should welcome assimilation into a culture and a political matrix that is usually the direct opposite of what they fled from.
More unity and integration would help. So why not encourage liberal Google to move some of its operations inland to needy Fresno, or lobby the wealthy Silicon Valley to encourage affordable housing in the near-wide-open spaces along the nearby I-280 corridor north to San Francisco?
Finally, state bureaucrats should remember that even cool Californians cannot drink Facebook, eat Google, drive on Oracle, or live in Apple. The distant people who make and grow things still matter.
Elites need to go back and restudy the state’s can-do confidence of the 1950s and 1960s to rediscover good state government — at least if everyday Californians are ever again to have affordable gas, electricity, and homes; safe roads; and competitive schools.
Victor Davis Hanson, as described on his website, is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.
He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.
Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007, the Bradley Prize in 2008, as well as the William F. Buckley Prize (2015), the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award (2006), and the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002).
Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various participants on CaliforniaAgToday.com do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints or official policies of the California Ag Today, Inc.
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.
For thousands of immigrants to California, the path to the American Dream literally winds its way through the state’s strawberry fields. Perhaps more than any other crop, strawberries are defined by decades of immigrants from Europe, Asia and Mexico.
A report issued earlier this month by the California Strawberry Commission, titled “Growing the American Dream: California Strawberry Farming’s Rich History of Immigrants & Opportunity,” illustrates how many new Americans find that strawberries are a viable ladder to success.
According to the report—which can be found on the Strawberry Commission website at www.californiastrawberries.com—a diverse community of 400 family farmers dominates the state’s strawberry production, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of all the strawberries grown in the United States.
Sixty-five percent of these farmers are Latinos, a quarter of whom worked their way up from field workers to supervisors and eventually owners of their own farms. Another 20 percent are Asian Americans, primarily Japanese and, most recently, Laotians. The remaining 15 percent are comprised of European Americans, with some tracing their ancestry to Gold Rush pioneers.
The story of my father, Luis Chavez, illustrates this immigrant experience. He came to the United States from a small, rural town in Jalisco, Mexico. Born in 1934, he was raised in a home with no electricity or running water. He hasn’t attended a single day of school in his entire life. His family grew corn and beans to survive.
With no money in his pockets, he arrived in California in search of a better life in 1955, as part of the Bracero program. Like generations of immigrants, my father realized that the key to success was hard work. He first worked in a dairy, covering double shifts for 16 years until the family could scrape up enough money to lease an acre to plant strawberries.
While still working their regular jobs, my parents would get up at 4 a.m. every day to tend their plot, slowly building their business. Gradually, they expanded to become L&G Farms. My siblings and I now work side by side with my father to farm 300 acres in Santa Maria, where we employ several hundred people.
This story is not uncommon. But why are so many immigrants drawn to strawberry farming?
Due to their high yield, year-round harvesting and strong consumer demand, strawberries are able to sustain a family on a relatively small parcel of land. The barriers to entry are also favorable to immigrant farmers, because they can afford to lease and not buy their farmland.
With our deep and longstanding immigrant tradition, California strawberry farmers have been highly vocal in advocating for immigration reform. Certainly, we are concerned about the need for a pool of workers to harvest our crops. But more importantly, we share a desire to make sure that future generations of immigrants have the opportunity for the upward mobility that strawberries have provided for our family.
Along with other California strawberry farmers, and even Silicon Valley executives, I have made several trips to Capitol Hill to tell Congress about the critical need for meaningful immigration reform.
While recent election results have stalled efforts, immigration reform should not be postponed indefinitely. And it definitely should not be a partisan matter.
On one of our trips to Capitol Hill, one of my colleagues, a first-generation Mexican-American farmer from Salinas, eagerly sought out a statue of President Ronald Reagan, his hero, who granted amnesty to millions of immigrants. This simple act paved the way for my colleague to become an American citizen, gradually working his way to become a strawberry farmer employing nearly 100 workers. Another American Dream realized.
The commission’s report provides a strong reminder about the sacrifice, pride and contributions made by this nation’s immigrants throughout our history.
It also underscores the fact that immigration reform is as American as, well, strawberries.