June 30, 2015

Innovation & Technology Propelled by Western Growers

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs

How will you be farming and running your business 10 years from now?  Will you be paperless and using drones and sensors to monitor soil moisture and robots to harvest more of your crops?  What will other operations be doing and how will they be doing it?  Will technology ensure profitable business and better food by providing us tools to produce more fresh produce at higher qualities using fewer inputs and producing less waste?

The future is all about innovation and the work that can be accomplished through technology.  It is the way forward and that is why I am excited to announce that we will be opening the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology in Salinas later this summer and launching a series of activities to lead in the discovery and development of technologies to address critical issues facing agriculture.

A key consideration for me as we began to develop plans for how WG might lead in the technology arena has been the myriad opportunities that such an effort provides to engage our members substantively and actively in shaping the future.  The Center may be the physical hub for WG, but more important is our declaration of focus on technology, and the potential to work directly with our members to identify the priorities for innovation, to facilitate critical review, trial and feedback of new/novel offerings, and to communicate early and often about the types of technologies and innovation moving forward to address agricultural issues.

Technology and innovation is such an amorphous set of terms.  It can mean anything from the next generation of your cell phone to robots that vacuum your living room.  Ambiguity, confusion and lack of focus is now seeping into the agricultural arena as numerous players, hungry for the opportunity that agriculture presents, descend upon the sector to hawk their wares.  You know this, as these folks have been knocking on your door for an opportunity to present, pitch, pilot or sell their products.  Bringing focus and order to this chaos is a large part of what I hope to accomplish, and the larger Western Growers effort presents many occasions to work directly in concert with members.

First and foremost is the opportunity to set the agenda and priorities for innovators.  To do this we must know, understand and clearly develop a problem statement for solutions providers so that they focus on innovations that are targeted to the priorities and problems facing growers, shippers and handlers and will be useful to industry.  Perhaps one of the best questions you could ask yourself is what technology would I adopt and invest in if it was available right now?  That kind of information is the missing link in the quest for innovation and one we would like you to share with us.

Second and vitally important is the opportunity to be “hands on” during developmental stages to ensure that innovations are useful and meet both industry needs and specifications.  It is clear that on-site testing of cutting-edge technological tools that are intended to address an industry priority in a real world environment is key to a successful innovation effort.  Some technologies may look good on paper, hold promise in the garage or laboratory, but will fail in a real world agricultural setting.  There is no shortage of innovators who need hard, clear feedback from potential users/customers early and often to ensure offerings actually position growers, shippers and processors to advance their own strategic objectives.  As Steve Jobs said, “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes.  It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

Direct involvement with WG members will be necessary to identify the priorities and agenda for innovation and also necessary to ensure that the solutions held up to address those priorities are useful to and provide return for growers, shippers and processors.  These are two clear areas where WG will use its strengths to facilitate active participation on the part of all members.

Agriculture has always had challenges and has often met and conquered them through better technology.  In the past we have relied on individual innovators within the industry to bring technology and advancement forward.  Today is different from the past.  We are moving faster than ever before and know we must do more with less in order to feed a rapidly-expanding population and market.  Now more than ever is the time to work together as an industry for the benefit of all of industry.  Western Growers is stepping up to coordinate this collaboration.  Using the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology as the standard bearer, we will engage our members to identify and perfect technology and businesses that create more efficient work processes, better productivity and performance, and ensure the viability of agriculture and ability to feed the world far into the future.