on how technology will continue to reshape all businesses in the future. “The reality is that there is a labor shortage in agriculture due to an aging workforce and increased regulations and costs. Today, we are going to talk about possible solutions,” said Donohue. Next, in-depth panels on automation and water technology took center stage. A “cattle call” topped off the hour, where start-up companies housed in the WG Center for Innovation & Technology came on stage to each provide a 90-second pitch about their company and technology. Attendees then had the opportunity to touch base with the startup that peaked their interest during the exhibition showcase that followed. To date, numerous startups are in talks with growers who attended the event about possible implementation of their technology in their fields. The second half of the evening session included fireside chats with venture capitalists on what they look for when providing seed funding to companies, as well as with educators speaking on the role of university and research in the agtech space. The night ended with a keynote speech from Richard Moran on succeeding in the workplace and a candid outlook on living amongst the tech community in Silicon Valley. From the dynamic topics discussed to the diversity of speakers, guests left the event with a wealth of information, including: • Technology needs to be looked at as a system, not as one action: Mechanization needs to happen across the entire value chain, because if one robot is working faster than the other parts of the production chain, there will be a bottle neck. Likewise, with irrigation technology, focus needs to be beyond one water valve. All other elements that are affecting or are affected by the valve need to be taken into consideration, as well. • Today’s farm practices won’t work for tomorrow’s machines: Growers and technologists need to collaborate to identify what in the planting and harvesting process can be modified. In order to create machines that meet growers’ needs, two items must be identified: 1) breeding genetics: how can a plant’s structure be modified to allow it to be easily harvested by a machine; and 2) growing systems: how can the
way things are grown be changed for automation (i.e., growing on fewer beds, but having more rows). • Acceleration of technology that will help solve ag’s biggest issues is driven by collaboration: One of the biggest pain points startups face is finding growers who are willing to test out and demo their technology in the field. • Timing and risk matter most to venture capitalists when considering investing in startups: Venture capitalists consider many factors when deciding to invest in startups. Most importantly, they focus on 1) ability to solve problems in a timely manner; 2) market and capital risk; and 3) execution risk. Innovation in the Imperial Valley — sponsored by RDO Equipment & Water, Netafim, Imperial Valley College, Farm Credit, UCANR and UC Riverside—is one of many events Western Growers plans to host to bring technology to the farming areas in California and Arizona. This summit followed on the heels of WG’s “Deep Dive Forum” last year, where 160 people gathered in Fresno to hear about specific technologies to address the Central Valley’s water ailments. Western Growers plans to bring the innovation conversation back to the Central Valley area later this year, this time focusing on issues beyond water.
Field Tours: George Kellerman of Yamaha participates in the morning field tours to learn more about in-field automation.
“Bringing technology to Brawley is not something that happens all the time,” said Kathy Smith, director of strategic accounts and industry affairs at Monsanto. Smith was one of the nearly 200 attendees at Innovation in the Imperial Valley . “It’s so rare for anyone to bring this type of conversation to the farming community, and it’s great that Western Growers is taking the initiative and doing it.”
More than 60 students from 4H, Future Farmers of America and Imperial Valley College heard pitches from agtech startups and team with venture capitalists to provide feedback during the noon session of the Innovation in the Imperial Valley Summit
MARCH | APRIL 2018
Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com
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