Sixty miles south of Silicon Valley, the Salinas Valley is one of the most intense concentrations of diverse farming operations in the nation. It represents an $8 billion industry that supplies 60 percent of the nation’s leafy greens, 30 percent of the nation’s strawberries, and has more than 43,000 acres of wine grapes.
With this backdrop, Forbes Magazine held the first AgTech Summit in Salinas, Calif., in conjunction with SVG Partners and the Thrive Accelerator. This was part of a series of events, which Forbes calls, “Reinventing America”.
SVG partners, (Silicon Valley Global Partners), is a global investment management firm led by a group of technology executives. The Thrive Accelerator is a highly selective mentorship and investment program for technology-enabled startups in the precision agriculture space.
This event brought together technology experts from a broad spectrum of disciplines, together with investors, growers, educators and government officials, to address the issues associated with dwindling water resources, increased demand of farming output, financial investment and technical logistics.
Speakers at the Summit included Robert Fraley, Ph.D., vice president and chief technology officer, Monsanto; Neal Gutterson Ph.D., vice president, Agricultural Biotechnology, DuPont Pioneer; Cory Reed, vice president, John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group; Mark Bartolomeo, global vice president, Connected Solutions – Internet of Things, Verizon; Eric Andrejko, Ph.D., vice president, science, The Climate Corporation; Samantha Wai, Farm 2050, lead, Innovation Endeavors; Steve Taylor, CEO, Taylor Farms; Tom Kip, CEO, Tom Farms, Indiana; Ben Chostner, vice president, business development, Blue River Technologies; Steve Forbes, chairman and editor in chief, Forbes Media; John Hartnett, founder and CEO, SVG Partners; Tom Nassif, president and CEO, Western Growers; and Karen Ross, secretary, California Department of Food & Agriculture.
Another panel discussion was in progress with participants being (left to right) Chris Brode, SVG Partners; Mark Bartolomeo, Connected Solutions-IoT, Verizon; John Harnett, SVG Partners, Hand Giclas, Western Growers; Steven Taylor, Taylor Farms.
Every possible scope of technology was covered, from Big Data analytics, sensing devices, water issues, the connected farm, the use of gene splicing, genomics, robotics, software, drones, digital IR thermal photography, and innovative solutions offered by satellites.
There was considerable discussion of drones and satellites providing thermal infrared sensing and estimated measurements using remote sensing data. This data includes surface soil properties, nitrogen content, water stress, vegetation cover, above ground biomass, crop species, crop height, crop yield and weed extent. Many of these parameters can now be determined using vegetation indices, such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) imaging.
Several speakers proposed whole concepts of farming should be re-examined for advance precision agriculture inclusion.
“It’s more about having the right information at the right time. Precise measurement will give you better management,” said Wade Barnes, CEO, Farmer’s Edge.
There were several forums, such as “Averting The Global Water Catastrophe,” “Rise of Machines,” “The Future of Agriscience,” “Farming From The Sky,” and “Farm To Table: The Changing Path To The Consumer.” In these forums, speakers were asked to address the over-all issue of the demand to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 in order to sustain a world population that’s expected to grow to nearly 10 billion by then.
Kip Tom, CEO of Tom Farms, said, “Growers don’t have enough time to evaluate all the different technologies, there’s the need to simplify things.” He also explained that if something isn’t working perfectly from the get-go because of necessary adjustments or retrofitting it isn’t acceptable. Especially prior to planting, three days of adjustments isn’t allowable when a planting window might only be a seven-day window.
Nora Khaldi, Ph.D., chief scientific officer for Nuritas, spoke about, the need to do “more with less”. She said, “With the utilization of data mining, we are looking at ways to create bioactive peptides, and to utilize ingredients that are discovered from food sources, that would be recognized as ‘safe’ by our bodies and thus overcome inflammation caused by food allergies.”
At the Summit, a number of issues were raised, and the consensus is there is no single answer. There is no “one size fits all solution,” but technology is the only way to address the problems faced.
The Summit, highlighted work in progress. Questions are whether these discussions and presentations move the ag industry ahead or influence consumer groups, and will Forbes be involved next year. It is doubtful any of the issues will simply go away or be completely solved.
Contributing writer to AgProfessional Peter Garin is a fifth generation Californian whose family was involved in farming since the early 1920s, he attended Cal Poly Pomona and has written for several publications including SOMA and Central Coast Newspapers. He writes about technology, food, wine and agriculture.