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May 3, 2022

Voices of the Valley: Exploring the Future of Agtech Innovation

IRVINE, CALIF. (May 3, 2022) – The past month’s episodes of Voices of the Valley, the podcast hosted by Dennis Donohue, the Executive Director of Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, and Candace Wilson, Regional Director at Farmers Business Network, feature four agricultural leaders discussing cybersecurity, climate change and the ways to ensure farmworkers attain a solid tech education.

Mark DeSantis, CEO of Bloomfield Robotics, makes a return visit to the podcast to discuss how agtech can improve work conditions for those employed at a farm. It’s not about making humans irrelevant to the field, he says, but instead it’s about creating new job categories in the labor market. “It’s not that people are replaced,” he says. “The world evolves and creates new opportunities.” Listen in to hear about a future world with digital agronomists, horticulturalists and botanists.

Do you use computers in your office? Guess what, you’re a tech company. “We’re not in a paper world anymore,” says Greg Gatzke, President and CEO of ZAG Technical Services, countering the common misconception that there is a dividing line between the Salinas Valley and Silicon Valley. “The more reliant you are on technology, the bigger you are, the more processing systems you have, the more vulnerable you are to attack,” he says. In this episode of Voices of the Valley, Gatzke talks about cybersecurity and virtual threats to the farming, and how his company bolsters safety in the online realm. 

Dr. Jerry Buckley, the President of Reedley College, joins Voices of the Valley to talk about the vital need to expand the relationship between agriculture and community colleges in California. “Across the country, community colleges are the best-kept secret that we have,” he says, noting that with its 2.1 million students in attendance every year, California community colleges represent the largest system of education in the U.S. For instance, the AgTechX Ed workforce development program spearheaded by Western Growers and California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross to train community college students is a perfect example of the way to pass along knowledge about on-farm skills and technology. “I can teach theory all day long,” Buckley says, “but it doesn’t make sense until they put it to use.”

Sarah Nolet, Co-Founder and General Partner at Sydney, Australia-based VC firm Tenacious Ventures, focuses on investing in early-stage agtech startups with an eye towards how they will help provide innovations to assist with the ramifications of climate change. “Ag can actually be a solution for a lot of the challenges we’re facing,” Nolet says in this episode of Voices of the Valley, noting that growers are in a unique position where they can simultaneously work to reduce emissions and be proactive to prevent additional climate disruption. While advocating for biodiversity, water quality improvement and carbon capture technologies, Nolet says it is important to not let perfection be the enemy of progress – and to also acknowledge that there is no silver bullet because “nature will be ahead of us no matter what.” 

Embed codes for the podcasts are available below:

Mark DeSantis

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Greg Gatzke

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Dr. Jerry Buckley

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Sarah Nolet

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