With California on course to increase minimum wage to $15 by 2022, labor-saving technologies were top of mind during Western Growers AgTechx – Delano Summit on Tuesday.
“Those of us who use a lot of hand process and human-dictated procedures are going to be increasingly replaced by the guys who get an automated solution first,” said John Pandol of Pandol Brothers during the event. “Because they will be [operating] cheaper. They will be better. That’s where we might lose out, and that’s where the urgency comes from.”
AgTechx-Delano began with a morning session where R&D specialists from companies such as Microsoft, Yamaha and Soft Robotics visited SunView and Jasmine Vineyards to learn what automating needs were required for a grape harvest. Half a dozen technologists had the opportunity to pick and prune grapes to determine what type of innovations could be invented to relieve labor challenges.
After a morning in the field, the small group then ventured to the American Slavonic Social Club where they joined 130 other technologist, farmers and venture capitalists to hear business sessions on automation, water technology and the future of farming. During the “Automation Update” panel, farmers expressed how the current ag labor shortage and regulations tied to SB3 and AB1066 were expediting the need for mechanization and automation.
“With automation, you don’t figure out what you need today, you figure out what you will need in five years,” said Harold McClarty of HMC Farms during the Q&A portion. “Because picking and packing grapes the way we do it with a wheelbarrow rolling grapes down the row like we did 2,000 years ago just isn’t cutting it. We needed answers yesterday, and we need somebody to step up with something that will solve our issues.”
Throughout the “Water Innovation” and “View from the Farm—The Next Generation” sessions, technology to aid the implementation of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was a common topic. Young farmers shared concerns over the new water regulations and expressed how technology could be a solution to meeting guidelines set by SGMA. Startups including Pow Wow Energy, SWIIM Systems and Tailwater Systems explained how their specific technology can be adapted to help manage new pumping restrictions, as well as meet other regulations related to both water supply and quality.
Attendees also heard from Keynote Speaker Ranveer Chandra of Microsoft, as he discussed end-to-end systems that enable seamless data collection for ag and new ways to circumvent connectivity issues on the farm.
This was the fourth installment of WG’s AgTechx series, which was launched earlier this year to bring technology to farmers in an effort to solve issues in their immediate region. The first “backyard innovation” event launched in Brawley on February 8, traveled to Reedley on May 8 and then to Harris Ranch on July 10.
This event was sponsored by Kern Machinery, Prophet, Netafim and UC ANR. All sessions and keynotes from AgTechx – Delano were live streamed and can now be found on the WG Center for Innovation & Technology’s Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/wgcit/