Western Growers Tech Center and Concentric Power Co-Host Forum

Discussing Energy Independence with California’s Growers Jan. 27

Industry innovators and government experts will share ways to safeguard energy supply in an era of bankrupt utilities and public safety power shutoffs

The Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology (WGCIT) and Concentric Power Inc., an energy technology company deploying power solutions for some of the country’s largest grower-shippers, will co-host the first-ever Salinas Valley Energy Forum to help growers and fresh food providers from California’s agricultural regions maintain productivity and improve profitability through energy independence. The Salinas Valley Energy Forum will be held at the Taylor Farms Curious Classroom on January 27, 2020, from 8:30-11:30 a.m.

The Forum will provide insights into how the region’s agricultural industry can overcome the instability in energy availability, reliability and pricing currently threatening California and beyond. The Forum will feature a panel of experts representing energy developers, government agencies and solution providers including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Monterey County Farm Bureau, the City of Gonzales, Schneider Electric and Concentric Power.

“Energy is a huge part of farming. In fact, everything done after harvest requires power,” said Dennis Donohue, director of the WGCIT. “Our members provide over half the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, so it’s critically important we help them navigate the energy challenges currently facing the state.”

Following historic fire seasons that have bankrupted California’s largest energy utility and led to widespread Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) last Fall, unreliable and unstable energy is a major disruption to the agriculture industry. The cost of energy for ag companies is also unpredictable, having risen nearly 20 percent since the beginning of 2018 within the PG&E service territory.

“Technological advancements, business models, regulation changes and the low cost of capital have made energy independence a viable option,” said Brian Curtis, Concentric Power’s founder and CEO. “Many organizations simply don’t know that it can pencil out both economically and technically. With power shutoffs now happening year-round and utility rates continuing to rise, ag and other fresh food producers are finding that status quo is no longer an option.”

The Forum will be led by moderator Matthew Willis, vice president of product and business development at Concentric Power, and will feature Concentric Power’s Curtis along with Rick Sturtevant, state energy coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Norm Groot, executive director at the Monterey County Farm Bureau; Rene Mendez, city manager for the City of Gonzales; and Gregg Morasca, vice president of strategic customers at Schneider Electric.

Forum attendees will learn:

What is happening across the state from an energy perspective

Local power options and solutions

How to execute energy projects at little to no upfront cost

How to invest in sustainable infrastructure

How Salinas Valley cities are improving and promoting economic development

 

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.”

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.”

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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.