Ag Tech Summit recap

Drone and cow photo via Popular Science

From the Produce News (Tim Linden):

From drones mapping tens of thousands of acres to a personal in-home eco-system, technology advances for the agriculture industry were celebrated at The AgTech Summit, held in Salinas, CA, July 8, as part of the Forbes Reinventing America series. Western Growers was a major sponsor of the event.

One of the highlights of the day was the winner of the year-long Thrive Accelerator Program, developed by SVG Partners in conjunction with Forbes, Verizon and Western Groves. the Thrive Accelerator is a highly selective mentorship and investment program for technology-enabled startups working specifically in agriculture. Originally, there were close to three dozen firms submitting proposals, 10 were picked to move forward and team with ag industry mentors to help them develop their ideas into real-world products…

Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, helped kick-off the day by participating in the opening panel, titled “The World’s Biggest Opportunity.” The panelists discussed how a generation of new technologies will revolutionize the way farming is done in the future. Nassif focused his remarks on the need for innovative solutions to the challenges facing the future of agriculture, in particular the increasing regulatory and market pressures to grow more with less.

“In the future, farming companies must continue to seek out and adopt new technologies that will allow them to increase yields while using less resources and inputs — such as water, labor, fertilizers and pesticides, and energy — and generating less waste,” said Nassif…

While the event was held in Salinas and specialty crop production was highlighted by several speakers, it was fairly apparent that the agronomic crops and the huge farms that dot the Midwest tend to be the focus of research in the ag technology sector. The fresh produce industry will clearly benefit as these technologies are developed and adopted, but speaker after speaker spoke of mapping huge farms with drones and satellite images to more efficiently water and fertilize these thousands of acres. One speaker talked about a 70,000-acre lentil farm in Canada.

Many different companies have surfaced that use public mapping data from satellite images to help growers better manage their crops by more efficiently using resources and drilling down to sub-acre plots, even as small as five-meter plots.

Another topic of interest that surfaced several times during the day was biotechnology and other advances in plant breeding. Robert Fraley, the chief technology officer for Monsanto, discussed genetic engineering and similar advances that are helping to produce better varieties and crop protection tools that can solve a multitude of issues. Both he and Neal Gutterson, vice president of agricultural biotechnology at DuPont Pioneer, talked about technology that allows researchers to look into the micrbiomes of a plant. This allows plant breeders to study the genomes of a plant cell and be much more targeted in their approach.

One very interesting session featured Gabe Blanchet, the 24-year-old co-founder and CEO of Grove Labs, which is producing a bookcase-sized ecosystem that endeavors to put a green house in every home. The piece of furniture uses a fish tank and its byproducts to help provide nutrients for a mini greenhouse that he said can give consumers two to three robust bowls of salad per week. The company has already produced and sold the first 50 of these ecosystems in the Boston area. He expects to be in full production this fall with a price tag in the $2,000 range.

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