By Ellie Amesse
The Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology was created to link Western Growers members with innovators in the agtech space. Below are news updates from the Center’s startups, as well as updates on activities at the center and its popular podcast!
Agtools is moving forward and has become a worldwide source of reliable data for private and public/government entities. Its founder was selected as one of the Microsoft-sponsored Women in Cloud, Top 100 Founders for 2023 in part by accelerating the usage of ESG and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. AgTools was honored by the city of Champaign, Ill., with a city proclamation during Agtech Week at the University of Illinois in March 2023. The company was also recently featured by the University of Florida in its research article on economies of scale and scope in fresh produce technologies. Also featured was AgTools’ white paper highlighting how geo-political and climate changes, plus over 76 variables, impact the supply chains for U.S. commissaries. These various honors have resulted in AgTools receiving multiyear contracts across the globe to continue providing curated data for optimum decision-making by farmers and buyers in the food supply chain.
This February, Bluewhite participated in the World Ag Expo 2023 in Tulare, in which they were selected as winners in the International Agri-Center World Ag Expo’s New Products competition. Bluewhite’s team installed the award-winning Bluewhite Pathfinder on multiple manufacturers’ tractors, showcasing the Pathfinder’s autonomous system with multiple types of implements, such as the Exact harvester. Bluewhite and Exact Harvesting Systems announced a collaborative partnership to pioneer the industry’s first fully autonomous nut-harvesting solution during the event. Together, Bluewhite and Exact Harvesting Systems are reimagining what is possible for growers around the world by creating autonomous farming opportunities.
Carbon Robotics, a leader in AI-powered robotics, empowers farmers to operate more efficiently by building innovative agriculture tools. The company’s revolutionary, high-precision laser weeding technology leverages sophisticated AI deep learning technology, computer vision, robotics and lasers to reduce weed control costs by 80 percent and improve crop yield and quality.
In February 2022, Carbon Robotics launched the LaserWeeder, a pull-behind robot that seamlessly attaches to the back of tractors and utilizes Carbon Robotics’ laser weeding technology to identify weeds and target them for elimination. The LaserWeeder’s 30 high-powered CO2 lasers use thermal energy to destroy the meristem of the weed with millimeter accuracy, without disturbing the soil or damaging nearby crops. The implement can kill up to 99% of weeds, eliminate up to 200,000 weeds per hour and weed up to two acres per hour.
Carbon Robotics introduced the industry’s first LaserThinning capability for its LaserWeeder in February 2023. LaserThinning targets areas where vegetable crops are purposefully overseeded and then thinned for optimal crop spacing, growth and yield. As a new software update, all LaserWeeders in the fleet will now be able to thin and weed on a single farm equipment platform.
To date, Carbon Robotics’ LaserWeeders have successfully eliminated over 500 million weeds across 50 different crops. Deliveries in 2023 will bring the LaserWeeder to farms in 17 U.S. states and three provinces in Canada. Pre-orders for 2023 are nearly sold out and pre-orders for 2024 deliveries are well underway.
En Solución’s fully automated ozone nanobubble system continues to help lower the cost of food safety while increasing quality control. We are pleased to be partnering with Braga Fresh to conduct pilot testing of our ozone nanobubble solution in their processing facility in Gonzales, Calif. In addition to shelf-life studies, we will explore the benefits of in-plant targeted placement of this innovative sanitizing technology. En Solución will also partner with JV Smith Companies at their JV Farms facilities in Yuma, AZ in support of En Solución’s latest grant award from the FDA. Under that award, En Solución will apply ozone nanobubbles to open water irrigation sources to improve water quality and enhance plant health and soil productivity. En Solución continues to seek additional installation locations with industry-leading partners across North America—let us know if you are interested in piloting with us!
After a successful product launch at the World Ag Expo last February, FarmWise is focusing on the start of the Salinas season and the building of its pre-order book for its new weeding implement, Vulcan. After years of experience providing best-in-class automated weeding services, the FarmWise team releases a radically different and unique architecture designed to provide unparalleled weeding performance in the field. Vulcan packs cutting-edge computer vision into a lightweight, open cultivator frame. Reliability, ease of operation, transportation and maintenance, and the ability to configure fast and leverage the implementation in any field are the core elements of Vulcan’s value proposition. The team also just filled a handful of critical roles within their engineering department, which will help accelerate the company’s effort toward successful deliveries of its first implements by this fall. To learn more about Vulcan and how it reduces growers’ weeding bills, please get in touch with Todd Rinkenberger, VP of Sales at FarmWise, and visit farmwiselabs.com.
Seven years ago, HeavyConnect Founder and CEO Patrick Zelaya was working on perfecting his pitch to present at the 2016 Startup Challenge Otter Tank. A few weeks later, his startup won first place in the Venture Division. Now, HeavyConnect is helping small farms keep track of operations in a manageable, simple interface. Using HeavyConnect, food supply chain workers can keep track of food safety compliance, connect with payroll services and more, all on one dashboard.
“What we provide is a solution that makes that process a lot easier so that they can keep being farmers and not just administrative record keepers,” said Zelaya. “Our goal is to keep growing that not just at the enterprise level, but also with the smaller growers.”
To make HeavyConnect a reality, Zelaya partnered with Brad Barbeau, director of the Institute for Innovation & Economic Development (iiED) at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB), who suggested he hire student interns to work on the project.
Startup Challenge is an annual competition for new businesses that teaches, coaches, mentors, networks and connects entrepreneurs to the knowledge and resources they need to succeed in the marketplace. The event is organized by the iiED, an institute of CSUMB’s College of Business. According to Zelaya, Startup Challenge prepared him and his team to successfully pitch to other audiences in the tech industry.
For Zelaya, spending the most time with the growers and farm workers was a key part of HeavyConnect’s success.
“What we have been building isn’t your traditional software startup,” he said. “Our experience in spending the majority of our time in the field with the growers, with the farmworkers is not something that you find coming out of the Bay Area. That was very important to our success and has given us a lot of insight to build a platform that is very intuitive for our users.
Working in the industry and with farm workers directly has taught Zelaya what workers need to keep operations running smoothly.
“The common thing that catches people’s eye when we deal with growers is the user interface is so simple that everyone in the operation can adopt it quickly versus having a complex training and adjustment hurdle to overcome to make that digital transformation away from paper-based workloads.”
Today, HeavyConnect continues to grow throughout the country and internationally.
“We’re excited to keep growing and serving this need,” Zelaya said.
Nexus Robotics is developing a weeding and scouting service that provides up-to-date information to farmers about the size and health of their crops. Our objective is to be the eyes and the hands of our customers, giving them local and global information on anomalies that need attention.
Nexus will commercialize the technology in May of this year by leasing the robots to farmers. The robots can be remotely monitored from our headquarters. The robot will soon become a platform technology for additional features, such as insect pest and disease detection as well as harvesting. As time goes on, the robot will become more intelligent and be able to offer more value to the farmers. Nexus is developing the next generation of farm equipment to ensure we have a stable and thriving food production system.
PickTrace, the winner of the 2022 AgTech Breakthrough award for Labor Management Solution, is the only all-in-one labor management suite for agriculture. It’s never been this easy to stay compliant, analyze labor costs and run payroll. With PickTrace Onboarding, users can rapidly hire/rehire employees, generate and digitally store their I-9 and W-4 documents, and bulk import employee data from PickTrace into their payroll system. Time and productivity are effortlessly tracked in real time, enabling you and your team to feel confident in your payroll compliance. Easily pay your workforce with PickTrace pay cards and provide your employees faster access to more of their hard-earned money. PickTrace recently increased its presence in Salinas and Yuma, focusing on delivering an exceptional customer experience, optimized field processes and operationalized data.
Our Swan Team is excited to welcome Shannon Rinkenberger! Expanding our California presence to the Central Coast, Shannon and her family’s farming background aligns perfectly with our efforts to serve growers.
The SWAN Systems software platform is adaptable for irrigators, ranch leads, managers, agronomists and water accounting. A new feature release in Spanish further enables irrigators with mobile devices and operational flexibility.
Swan optimizes irrigation technology from simple clipboard recordkeeping to over 100 industry hardware sensors and data points. The technology creates a single, safe place for your irrigation specs, crop-coefficients and farm know-how; allows for complex irrigation scheduling in minutes; and delivers reliable, repeatable software scheduling, even when the hardware is down.
External events are putting pressure on grower-packer-shippers and foodfor processors: labor shortages, worker skills gaps, overtime laws, supply chain, geopolitical challenges, climate, etc. leave these operations vulnerable. Operational efficiency and innovation are how businesses can absorb the impact of these external challenges. New WGCIT member, Terrantic, is on a mission to utilize your existing data to improve your operations. You probably don’t use most of the data you already have. To quote Stuart Woolf from the Feb. 2023, Voice of the Valley podcast, “We collect a lot of data, but we don’t have a lot of information…to make better decisions, real-time decisions…” Terrantic solves this problem. Come find out how we use your existing data to drive labor efficiency, improve skills gaps, maximize yield, maximize shelf-life, reduce unplanned machine downtime, and much more.