Western Growers, in collaboration with Bayer Crop Sciences, rolled out the Sacramento area’s inaugural AgTechx event this past Thursday. AgTechx – a summit where farmers and technologists collaborate on new innovations to help sustain the world’s food supply – featured a riveting Junior AgSharks Competition; a “State of the Ag Industry” fireside chat; and in-depth panels on how robotics/automation and new technologies to improve soil health can help farmers’ operations. More than 120 growers, agtech startup companies, agricultural industry stakeholders, and community leaders attended the event, which was held at the Bayer Crop Science Research Facility in West Sacramento.
The event kicked off with three keynote addresses from Vilas Rao and Keely Roth of The Climate Corporation; Kirk Haney of Radicle Growth and Inci Dannenberg of Bayer Crop Sciences.
“Growers are facing so much change in their future and their needs are changing,” said Dannenberg. “They have a lot of pressure, a lot of challenges -- economic challenge, challenge managing things, consumer preference and dealing with water availability, water quality and labor. So we need to figure out ways to provide solutions and not just products. Solutions that address those specific needs are the next way we are moving forward.”
Adrian Percy (Bayer) and Hank Giclas (Western Growers) then provided a “state of the ag industry,” as well as discussed current and future challenges facing the agricultural industry, during a fireside chat. To add to their discussion, in-depth panels featuring leading growers and agtech entrepreneurs shared growing pains in the field and possible technologies to help solve those issues.
“Agriculture, specifically the produce industry, has to figure out how there is going to be technology development that’s not me-specific,” said WG Chairman Ron Ratto (Ratto Bro.) during the automation panel, where he was also joined by WG Board Member Stephen Danna (Danna Farms). “It has to be at a higher point, on a broader level, where there can be learning. It can start as a design for one commodity but once deployed, there should be a transference to other commodities that are handled in similar ways.”
A highlight of the event was the Junior AgSharks Competition, where five Future Farmers of America students pitched their projects and ideas that might improve revenue or reduce cost for California growers in key areas such as labor, soil health, food safety, sustainability, pest management and water and nutrient conservation. Mackenzie Camacho ended up taking first place, with her study on the most effective burning treatment in preventing the spread of Botryosphaeria in walnut trees. She won a $750 scholarship, while the other four competitors each earned a $250 grant.
The success of the WG Center for Innovation & Technology also played a prominent theme, as nearly 15 of the Center’s 50 startups provided quick pitches about their technology. Growers then had the opportunity to follow up with each desired startup during the open house and networking sessions.
This event was the first of its kind in the Sacramento area, and the fifth installment of WG’s AgTechx series. The purpose of AgTechx is to help startups bring their technologies to market, in an effort to solve agriculture’s most pressing issues such as labor shortages, food safety and water scarcity. Through a series of interactive activities, AgTechx advances innovation by bringing agricultural technologies to farmers. The first “backyard innovation” event launched in Brawley on February 8, traveled to Reedley on May 8; then to Harris Ranch on July 10; and to Delano on September 18.
Photos and the livestreamed videos from this AgTechx event can be found on the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology’s Facebook Page.
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