Organization is the Missing Link to Supply Chains

Grower Distribution Difficult

By Mikenzi Meyers, Contributing Editor

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.

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.

AgTech Insight Improving Business

Customer Satisfaction is Key in AgTech

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

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.”

Electric Tractors Will Soon Be Available

With So Many Electric Cars, Why Not Electric Tractors?

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

There are many different models of electric cars—they are even mainstream in most  U.S. cities and other countries—and now farmers may soon have electric tractors to use in specialty crops in California.

Bakur Kvezereli is president and CEO of Ztractor, the first autonomous electric tractor for specialty crops. Kvezereli, who is based in Palo Alto, explained why the tractor is being developed in California.

“First, California is our market. Second, we teamed up with some great engineers, who graduated from Stanford, and my school, which was MIT. We were friends, and we wanted to look into this technology looking to replace the 25 or 30 HP diesel motor as well as the 30-gallon diesel,” he said.

“And we started as an electric tractor company in September 2017. And in two months, we realized that to achieve an electric tractor, you have to find a solution for making it autonomous,” Kvezereli explained.

“We now have three models in our manufacturing pipeline. One 24 horsepower will be available to the farmers this year. The next model will be a bigger tractor, 45 horsepower, which will be available 2020, and a 125 horsepower will be available in 2021.”

“Our basic tractor will have all the usual features found in most other tractors. The premium model line will have more features, especially on the software and hardware area. The zTractors will have no emissions and no hydraulics—just strong torque power.”

A four-hour charge will provide 6 to 10 hours of work in the field. “It requires only level two charging similar to car charging.  “We are exploring a better battery, however currently it is the nickel ion technology,” Kvezereli said

“Horsepower is where we estimate the metrics for a tractor. What we think farmers care about is torque. In electric, to achieve higher torque is much easier than to achieve it with diesel power, and electric technology in general is very reliable for many types of tasks,” said Kvezereli.

The electric tractors keep the same three-point hitch as well as a PTO, both electrically operated.

“We build everything based on the requirements for the PTO and three-point hitch, and I think that’s what makes the Ztractor different from any other robotics companies that will provide a better tractor. It’s a general purpose and can replace a regular traditional tractor,” he said.

The main farming operations will be strawberry  vineyards and vegetable operations. The tasks will include soil preparation and crop management. Harvest tasks are not yet available.

The prices for the tractors, calculated at $1,000 per horsepower, are similar to traditional tractors.

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.

Study: Remote Sensing of Weeds on Vineyards Has Merit

Aerial Sensing Of Weeds Saves Time and Labor

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

There is a potential use of remote sensing with drones and vineyard weed management. Working on that research is Cody Drake, a senior at California State University, Fresno. He’s working with Luca Brillante, an assistant professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology. Anil Shrestha is chair and professor, also in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at Fresno State. Drake’s research is at a vineyard in Napa County.

“The goal of my research is to make weed management practices in vineyards a little more efficient,” Drake said.

Currently, there is a lot of manpower, money, and time going into scouting for weeds and spraying.

“What we did with the drone is we wanted to map high-pressure weed zones to target spray in the field instead of spraying the entire field,” Drake explained.

This aerial scouting is hoping to become more efficient for time and labor.

“It’s all based on imagery. The drone gives us waypoints as to the areas where we need to spray. We have a company that’s called Drone Deploy, and they go through, and they stitch all the photos together,” Drake said.

Drake’s research has only been on vineyards so far, and his research has been proven to work.

“We did a 30-meter flight and a 10-meter flight, and that just shows the difference in how close you can get to identifying weeds species on the ground at a 30 meter height,” he said.

At 30 meters, it was very hard to tell which species was which. At 10 meters, the weeds were more identifiable.

“We would prefer to do another trial with a higher resolution camera. That way we can see the species, identify them a little easier and a little more efficiently,” Drake said.

By doing this, Drake and his team can pinpoint where the heavyweights are and just go spray that one area. For future research, they are going to try a camera with higher resolution to see if it can see through a denser vineyard.

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.”

Big Goal for United Fresh: Promoting Produce to Consumers

Voice Search Idea Studied at United Fresh BrandStorm Event

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate editor

Mary Coppola, Vice President of Marketing Communications at United Fresh Produce Assocation, is not just focused on selling brands of produce but improving marketing within the industry as a whole.

Mary Coppola, United Fresh

When it comes to promoting a brand, Coppola knows that people are more drawn to those they have background information on.

“We’ve certainly seen that when there is a brand association and there is a strong story shared with the consumer—that there are a trust, loyalty, and a desire to seek out that brand—in return, [that] means that the consumer is buying more of that product,” she explained.

Producers looking to create this kind of a connection should note that less is more, and consistently sending the same message is the best way to get consumers on board.

The marketing industry is also trying to capitalize on the consumer’s connection with technology. Coppola described new research into voice-activated search engines, called voice optimization.

“Consumers are, more and more, using a voice search to ask about products, what’s in season, and where they can buy such product,” she said. “There’s an opportunity for producers to start talking about their products, and their brands to be able to be the ones to answer those questions.”

Every year, United Fresh holds an event called BrandStorm that brings together produce marketers to update them on the latest trends and set the stage for the rest of their marketing activities throughout the year. They also hold a convention expo for professionals in the retail industry in order to educate them and give them the tools they need to help producers sell their products.

With an abundance of new technology and marketing research, the ultimate goal still remains the same.

“As an industry, I think we would all share the same sentiment: that we want consumers to eat more produce,” Coppola said.