Western Grower & Shipper 2018 03MarApr

Innovation Summit Brings AgTech to Imperial Valley’s Backyard

By Stephanie Thara Metzinger C hatter surrounding the latest in technology and ag 200 people, Western Growers’ Innovation in the Imperial Valley Summit brought together farmers, researchers, technologists and agtech startups to delve into the labor and water issues facing agriculture in this desert region and the specific technologies being invented to help solve those issues. Innovation in the Imperial Valley, a full-day event, was divided into three parts, with the evening session at the Stockmen’s Club serving as the culmination of the event. The event is part of Western Growers’ latest effort to advance innovation by bringing agricultural technologies to farmers. “So many times, technology and innovation stay within the Silicon Valley. Today, we are bringing tech to our backyard, so that the innovators can fully understand who we are,” said Dennis Donohue, lead of the WG Center for Innovation & Technology. “Imperial Valley is the type of setting where these technologists and inventors can come to be fully immersed in our world of ag, even if it’s just for a short time.” R&D TEAMS LEARN AG AUTOMATION DURING FIELD TOURS The day began with exclusive field tours in the morning, where research and development specialists from Yamaha and Soft Robotics visited fields of iceberg lettuce, cauliflower and romaine innovation filled the corridors of the Stockmen’s Club in Brawley, CA, on February 8. Drawing a crowd of nearly

lettuce to learn about automation needed in the fields. Pat Stafford from Church Brothers Farms spoke to these automation experts about the labor struggles growers are facing and demonstrated the types of machines already in use in the fields. “The challenge is that the customers want exactly what they had yesterday—fresh produce that they are familiar with,” said Stafford. “You can create a new type of broccoli that can be easily machine-harvested, but it will look different and consumers may not want it.” Team members from Yamaha and Soft Robotics had the opportunity to ask the questions needed to learn how their companies can invent or improve mechanization to help farmers meet the needs of their customers. When the field tours concluded, a handful of guests headed to Farm Credit Southwest Services to meet with students, agtech startups and venture capitalists for the afternoon session. NEXT GENERATION ACT AS JUDGES FOR AGTECH PITCH COMPEITITON As part of WG’s goal to encourage students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to pursue a career in agriculture, the Innovation in the Imperial Valley event included a session where youth were “AgSharks” for the afternoon. More than 60 students from 4H, Future Farmers of America and Imperial Valley College teamed with venture capitalists from Rabobank, Strategic Fresh LLC and Artemis Water Strategy to hear and judge pitches from agtech start-up companies. After the pitches and Q&A concluded, the students unanimously chose Novihum Technologies—who is producing a novel soil amendment product—as the winner. The students also heard from keynote speakers Rosibel Ochoa, associate vice chancellor for technology partnership at UC Riverside, and Carl Vause of Soft Robotics, on the importance of STEM professionals to the future success of agriculture. “The future is about science and technology,” said Ochoa. “It’s not enough to be a user. It’s important to harness that technology to solve problems.” AUTOMATION, WATER TECH, VENTURE CAPITALIST SESSIONS BRING AGTECH TO FOREFRONT The excitement from the AgSharks workshop carried over to the evening session at the Stockmen’s Club, where conversations about possibilities of technology among Imperial Valley locals began to flow. The event kicked off with opening remarks from Western Growers’ Hank Giclas, Larry Cox of Coastline Family Farms, Donohue of WGCIT, and Ted Horan of RDO Equipment

Fireside Chat: (left to right) Ken Zuckerberg, Rabobank International; Kirk Haney, Radicle Funds; Arama Kukutai, Finistere Ventures

10   Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com   MARCH | APRIL 2018

Made with FlippingBook Online newsletter