Voices of the Valley
By Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology
Voices of the ValleyMay 23, 2023
How Bayer’s Dr. Frank Wong Overcame His Skepticism About Biologicals
Dr. Frank Wong, one of Bayer's Industry Affairs Directors, discusses his shift in opinion about biological solutions on this week’s episode of Voices of the Valley. “I would say that [during] the last two decades of my career, I’ve always been really cynical about biologics,” Frank says. In this episode, he discusses how and why he’s a recent convert on the issue. In the end, he says, it all comes down to supporting and providing tools for growers.
With new regulatory pressures presenting themselves all the time on both state and federal levels, Frank discusses the need for options, but acknowledges it isn’t going to be easy. “It’s certainly challenging for maintaining tools that actually allow you to produce fruits and vegetables that you can sell and market…There needs to be a way to address those types of challenges,” he said.
Asking the Right Questions with Josh Ruiz, Senior Director of Ag Technology and Innovation, on Voices of the Valley
Josh Ruiz, Senior Director of Ag Technology and Innovation at Duda Farm Fresh Foods, shares how he views challenges and opportunities in his role to be an actor of change in agriculture on this week’s episode of Voices of the Valley.
Rabo Research's David Magaña on a Global Approach to Consumer Desires
David Magaña is Vice President and Senior Analyst of Rabo Research in North America for fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, and he shares his global perspective on the present challenges in agriculture on this week’s episode of Voices of the Valley.
Together with hosts Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson, David discusses the global factors of water, land, logistics and inflation that put pressure on agricultural production, calling it “a massive collision of forces.” With rising consumer demands, growers have to manage the ─ sometimes contradictory ─ desires of buyers and consumers.
Farmers are Entrepreneurs: Citi’s Adam Bergman Talks Agtech
Adam Bergman ─ Managing Director, Clean Energy Transition Group and the Global Head of AgTech at Investment Banking, Citi ─ joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson on this week’s episode of Voices of the Valley.
The topic of agtech and cleantech to address issues like climate change is a global endeavor, Adam says. Countries like Israel, Brazil and the United States are all players in creating and utilizing sustainable agricultural practices, and a collaboration of effort toward a sustainable future is an asset.
And all roads lead back to the farmer. “The farmer of the future is going to be someone with an iPad in their hand,” Bergman says. But every agtech solution should be developed and brought to market with grower input to ensure value, usability and return.
Alex Cochran Discusses the Value of Biologicals in Agriculture
Alex Cochran, Chief Technology Officer at DPH Biologicals joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson on this week’s episode of Voices of the Valley to discuss the realities and possibilities of utilizing biological solutions in agriculture.
In this episode, Alex shares his insight into how to optimize the benefits of biologicals, which, he says, starts with the relationship with growers: “The single biggest challenge that we have in the biological space today is around trust.” The answer to building that trust: high-quality science and aligning expectations.
Biologicals don’t function in the same way that chemistry does, and Alex takes time in this episode to discuss examples. Alex says: “The way I like to position biologicals is, they’re not chemistry. They are different. They behave differently. In some cases, they need to be handled differently, and that’s important for growers to understand from an education process.”
Christine Birdsong, Undersecretary for the CDFA, Talks Sustainable Pest Management Solutions on This Week’s Voices of the Valley
Undersecretary for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Christine Birdsong joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson on this week’s episode of Voices of the Valley to discuss her role and initiatives to support California agriculture on key points like sustainable pest management, water (whether drought or flood), supply chain difficulties and an aging workforce.
Amazon Web Services’ Elizabeth Fastiggi on Guiding the Industry to be More Predictive with Agtech Innovation
Elizabeth Fastiggi, Head of Worldwide Business Development for Amazon Web Services, joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson on this episode of Voices of the Valley to discuss the role she has in supporting innovation to connect all areas along the agricultural supply chain. “That’s what our company at AWS is doing, helping customers innovate more quickly and move much faster as it relates to the use of data and technology,” Fastiggi says.
Fastiggi talks about moving the industry forward with tools that will help unify siloed data and democratize machine learning: “Various members of the supply chain talking to each other is what really matters.”
Hernan Hernandez on Working to Give Farmworkers a Voice in Politics and Policy
On this episode of Voices of the Valley, Hernan Hernandez, Executive Director of the California Farmworker Foundation, shares his background about growing up in a farm community to becoming a voice and force for policy change.
Ian LeMay, President of the California Fresh Fruit Association, on how Agtech Bolsters Ag Labor
Ian LeMay, President of the California Fresh Fruit Association, joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson on this episode of Voices of the Valley to discuss navigating current challenges in fresh produce agriculture to reach a bright and exciting future.
LeMay shares his thoughts about the two biggest challenges that fresh fruit farmers in California face: labor and water.
“Transition is the word of the day,” said LeMay. “In termsof issue areas…truly has been agriculture labor. Our roots run extremely deep in that area, in positive ways and negative. To this day, as our commodities still holistically depend on the human hand to pick, pack and ship our commodities, labor will lead every conversation in terms of an issue focus area for the California Fresh Fruit Association.”
When asked about the role that agtech will play in relation to labor on farms, LeMay said, “We’re not trying to replace ag labor with agtech. If anything, we’re trying to create more efficient, safer places of work where ultimately the individuals working in that sector can earn more and have more advanced allocation of their job.”
Bountiful Founder and CEO Megan Nunes Wants to Use Satellites to Revolutionize Farming
Most people don’t think of the study of agriculture and the study of space as being related to each other, but this week’s Voices of the Valley guest, Megan Nunes, shares with hosts Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson how space and agricultural technology work together. Nunes is the founder and CEO of Bountiful— a company that uses satellite imagery to provide data-driven insights to farmers.
Nunes grew up in an agricultural community, but while attending Cal Poly SLO she worked for an aerospace company. Several years out of college she started Bountiful, combining her passions for space and the agriculture industry.
“I have a dream job that I’m hoping will be created in the agriculture sector one day,” Nunes said. “I want to see an agronomist become a digital data scientist, where we’re able to look at agronomy from space.” Nunes, Donohue, and Wilson talk about their hopes and dreams for the agriculture sector, as well as topics of climate, geography and how satellite technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we farm.
Adrian Percy, Executive Director of the North Carolina Plant Science Initiative, Talks About the Exciting Rise of Automated Farm Equipment
It’s a pivotal time for ag tech and automated farm equipment. This week’s Voices of the Valley episode addresses the growth of ag tech in recent years in a conversation between hosts Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson and guest Adrian Percy, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Plant Science Initiative. “I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’ve never seen such an explosion of innovation and technology coming to agriculture,” Percy said of recent technological developments. In this episode, Percy answers questions about product development in ag tech, up-and-coming technologies in the farming industry, AI, and more.
Note: At the time of recording, Adrian Percy's connection was slightly affected due to the storms.
The Future of Sustainable Desalination
University of Notre Dame professors Dr. Brandon Ashfeld and Dr. Tengfei Luo and farmer J.P. LaBrucherie join the podcast this week; the trio is part of a research project focused on using technology to make desalination a sustainable water solution for all areas of American life, including agriculture.
It’s no secret that desalination is a much-studied and debated topic that can lead to frustration and confusion among scientists and the public. “You’re trying to solve a water problem, but on the other side, you’re burning fossil fuel, which contributes to climate change which leads to the water shortage problem,” Luo said. Ashfeld, Luo, and Labrucherie discuss topics related to agricultural water use, western reliance on the Colorado River, the pros and cons of desalination, and how their developing technology can make desalination a more sustainable practice.
Radicle Growth CEO and Managing Partner Kirk Haney on the Secret to Successful Agtech Investing
In this episode of Voices of the Valley, Kirk Haney, CEO and Managing Partner of Radicle Growth, joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson to share some of the expertise he has gained from launching multiple startups and a deep portfolio of agtech investments. “You learn a lot from every investment you make and every company you run,” Haney says.
Haney shares his insight into the opportunities he sees in agriculture from an investment perspective. “Ag is the least digitized industry in the world. That absolutely, 100% cannot continue. Ag has to be digitized,” he says. Haney talks about opportunities to create beneficial systems that will help growers make better risk-adjusted farming decisions and integrate currently siloed processes.
Tom Mulholland and the Bottom Line of Agriculture – Productivity
Tom Mulholland sees California agriculture through the wide lens of his multigenerational farm. As a fourth-generation citrus grower, Mulholland knows his lifetime commitment to Mulholland Citrus is one part of the whole that belongs to his family.
“Generational pass-downs are remarkable," Tom says. "The fact of it is that you have to have something that’s of interest... and we have the best opportunity to [show that] feeding people is so important,” he said in this episode of Voices of the Valley.
As CEO of Mulholland Citrus, he shares his effusive excitement about the intricacies of growing the kind of citrus that brings joy to people. Listen to this week’s episode to share in his devotion to the growth of the industry, horticulture, mechanics and, most importantly, family.
Stuart Woolf: Agtech from Apple Computers to Almonds
In this episode of Voices of the Valley, Stuart Woolf, President and CEO of Woolf Farming Company, shares his interest, knowledge and utilization of agtech, which started in 1982 with his first Apple computer computations.
Woolf is the second generation of growers who keeps his feet grounded in the present while looking the future: “One thing my Dad did - which I thought in retrospect was really kind of genius - he looked at the crops that were predominantly being grown out there in the mid-'70s and it was a lot of cotton, grain, melons, those kinds of things, and he thought ‘You know, I don’t want to be beholden to farm programs and support payments and all that.’ So he really started to focus on crops that were unique to California like almonds and pistachios where we had global competitive advantage. He narrowed it down to a handful of items that turn out to be highly mechanized, we had a global advantage, we enjoyed a better return per acre foot on those crops.”
That inclination to see the big picture and how it relates to success over time means a focus on innovation. Of the topics that are on his radar ─ water, labor shortages and soil health to name a few ─ Woolf says there is one area of innovation he and his team have an eye on: data processing. His take makes this episodes a must listen for any grower, innovator, or environmental health advocate.
Belinda Clarke and the Many Ways Science Can Help Growers Adapt
Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-techE, joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson on this week’s Voices of the Valley to share her knowledge about the many ways science works with growers to adapt and respond to environmental and political changes.
Clarke describes the work that Agri-techE does as creating “an innovation ecosystem for agtech bringing together growers and farmers, technology developers and researchers.”
Donohue, Wilson and Clarke touch on the different industries that are coming to the table to offer agricultural tools from space tech to biology. But tech solutions are nothing without the proper mindset. “Innovation is not just about in-field technology, it’s around processes, it’s around mindset. Innovation is around just doing things differently,” Clarke shares.
The move toward adoption of available and developing resources will be a process, but Clarke and Agri-techE are making the space to provide education and opportunity to the agricultural industry both for England and abroad.
Seana Day: How Farmers Can Use Technology to Make Financially Sound Decisions
In this episode of Voices of the Valley, Seana Day, Partner with Culterra Capital and Venture Partner with Better Food Ventures, joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson to share her perspective about the need for digital systems to better utilize farmers’ time, information and resources.
“When we think about the role of technology and optimizing our assets, our resources, it just doesn’t make sense to me why more companies aren’t thinking about integrating those technologies…it’s always surprising to me how much loss or waste operators are willing to assume as just a cost of doing business,” Day shares.
Day also speaks about the growing need for a workforce trained in the unique environment of an agricultural organization and how important it is for those working in specialized roles to integrate with one another and the software that’s available.
“I’m looking at all of this information and it’s siloed,” Day says. “It’s so disconnected. It’s so analog. It’s all done on pen and paper, and it takes forever. Making any kind of remotely real-time decision - let’s be honest, there’s a lot of risk. You leave revenue on the table. Your costs are inflated. There’s more risk than there should be because we’re not able to access information…to make those swift decisions.”
As a Venture Partner, Day also offers insight into the three things that stand out to her when she’s assessing startups and what sets the two to four that are chosen apart from the hundreds that apply.
Simon Pearson from The Lincoln Institute of Agri-Food Technology Talks Agtech Solutions on a Global Scale
On this episode of Voices of the Valley, Simon Pearson, Founding Director of The Lincoln Institute of Agri-Food Technology, shares insight into how aiming for lofty heights gives a better perspective on potential solutions to agriculture’s workforce challenges.
“We started with the hard problem - a bit like a moonshot - and then as we actually did that work we sort of went 'Hmmmm, hang on a minute, there’s a few low-lying opportunities here,'” he says.
Pearson discusses how the challenges that growers face in the United States are in line with those that growers in the United Kingdom are navigating. Much like the producers in the U.S., technology in the U.K. may hold the key to solutions in the form of robotics, AI and automation.
Listen now to hear how Pearson and the Lincoln Institute of Agri-Food Technology are working on solutions for “big engineering problems on a global scale.”
Farm from a Box’s Brandi DeCarli on Creating Local Food Access Through Entrepreneurship
Brandi DeCarli, CEO and Founding Partner of Farm from a Box, joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson to discuss the dynamic and sustainable future of agriculture.
A listening experience that’s the perfect start to the new year, DeCarli shares a palpable excitement for the coming years in ag, and sees challenges as opportunities.
Whether it’s entrepreneurship or giving a TEDx talk, DeCarli weaves her willingness to thrive in the unknown throughout the conversation: “That is sort of quintessential to the entrepreneurial journey - to choose to just dive into the deep end and then figure out how you’re going to iterate along the way.”
Her adaptability has left an imprint on the product she helped create. Farm from a Box provides food sustainability solutions through flexibility. “We address that through a modular, decentralized drop-in infrastructural support system that works for addressing food crises [and] that also works for re-anchoring localized food production directly into the fabric of our communities,” DeCarli said.
Her goal is clear: “[To] use clean technology to really increase and strengthen localized food access and local and regional food production.”
Central Valley Foundation CEO and Former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin: Focused on a Better Future
“Food is culture. Culture is people. People are stories.” So says Ashley Swearengin, the CEO of the Central Valley Foundation and former mayor of Fresno, who joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson on this episode of Voices of the Valley to share her visions, goals and accomplishments about building a bridge to a brighter future.
Whether the goal is to stem groundwater depletion, halt runaway sprawl, or promote innovation, one component comes up throughout her message: comprehensive partnership. Change for the better happens when people make a point to gather and work together.
Her work to bring everyone to the table has carried over from her accomplishments as mayor to her work with The Future of Food Innovation (F3) program. “The whole point of F3 is to set a table big enough for every aspect of the food economy to have a seat at the table and work together to particulate on a 20-year vision of how we make all of these things work together," she says.
Netafim’s President and CEO Mike Hemman Discusses How Growers Can Respond to California’s Record Drought
Mike Hemman, President and CEO of Netafim, joins Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson on this week’s episode of Voices of the Valley to discuss the short- and long-term strategies for adapting to the nuanced water needs growers have amid the ongoing California drought.
“I think that the opportunity to deliver water in a more efficient manner has never been more important, and I believe that the growth we’re going to see in adoption towards more precise ways of irrigation is going to be huge over the next couple of decades,” Mike says. ”For me, being a native of California, it’s important to me personally to have an opportunity to do that - and from a commercial perspective, it’s a very fast-growing segment of the industry, and there’s a lot of new technology that’s coming into it.”
The key to this new technology, Hemman says, is precision.
“Effectively what you’re doing is taking a very small amount of water putting it exactly where the plant needs it,” Mike says. “It’s almost like an IV.”
Eurofins U.S. Chief Science Officer Joelle Mosso on Why Testing Can't Solve Food Safety Problems
On this episode of Voices of the Valley, Joelle Mosso, Chief Science Officer of Eurofins U.S., discusses her expertise in microbiology and food science and how it relates to food safety.
Mosso shares her thoughts on the complexities and challenges of working with a rapidly evolving biological environment. When asked about how food safety has changed over time, Mosso said, “In respect to what has changed [in food safety], it's that whole comment of 'Everything is safe until it’s not.' In food safety, we have to recognize that just because we haven’t seen something before doesn’t mean it’s not a risk… Food safety is dynamic, and I think that’s one of the things that makes food safety really, really hard to handle.”
The discussion shifts toward the benefits and limitations of testing. Mosso notes that the value of data collected from testing is in the utilization of the information in a proactive food safety strategy: “Tests don’t solve problems. I can have the best tests in the world, it’s not going to solve it. So [it’s] what you do with that information that solves something.”
For Mosso, adaptability is key when it comes to the science behind food safety. “I think that’s the thing with food safety - or anything with science and research - is that we are always understanding and finding new information, and some of it sometimes invalidates something we were completely sure on before,” she says. “I think that’s where food safety is: Recognizing on the day-to-day how to apply a food safety program to continually improve it to make it a safer and safer product.”
Carl Casale of Ospraie Ag Science on Doing More With Less
Carl Casale, Senior Agricultural Partner at Ospraie Ag Science, joins the podcast to talk about his company's overarching goal in venture capital: to produce more high-quality food with less impact on the environment.
"By 2030, half the world's population is going to be middle class or wealthy and the other half of the population is going to have the same issue of needing more calories to meet their basic needs," he says. "But for half the population - they aren't going to need more calories, but they are going to care deeply about how those calories are produced."
To that end, Carl is exploring the potential for biologicals, biopesticides, soil testing and management that will allow ag to adapt to consumer preference and global regulations. But the bar for innovators in these fields has gotten higher this year, he says.
"What we're seeing as investors is that we're immediately learning what's good and what's not," Carl says. "Before, if there were 100 companies in a given space, the top 75 would get funded just because they're along for the ride. Now you better be in the top quartile or you're not getting any money. It's the separation of the wheat from the chaff right now."
Trimble's Mike Dentinger on Strategies to Reach the Finish Line with Global Harvest Automation
As the data for the next edition of Western Growers' Global Harvest Automation Report are being crunched, Mike Dentinger, the Director of AG OEM Development at Trimble, joins the podcast to discuss the potential of automated harvest becoming a day-to-day reality soon.
"It's a really tough equation," he says. "How many carrot harvesters does California really need that Grimmway isn't already building themselves?... And what is it going to take to do this if it ends up being a one million or two million dollar machine and you are going to sell 12 of them a year? The math really falls apart very quickly."
The key to getting to the finish line, he says, is to figure out where the commonalities exist in specialty crop harvest automation and then innovate from that point. For instance, 80 percent of that hypothetical carrot harvester can have common components, and the rest could be swapped out per the needs of the particular commodity. "You don't have to swallow the elephant in one bite," Mike says. "You can take it in pieces."
The Produce Moms' Lori Taylor on Educating Consumers About Food and Farming
Lori Taylor, Founder and CEO of The Produce Moms, joins Voices of the Valley this week to talk about how she uses her multimedia platform to pull back the veil for the general public about the process of produce farming. "Our mission is to simple: To get more fruits and vegetables on every table," she says. "We want fruits and vegetables to be the number one thing people think of when they write their grocery list." Lori aims for TPM to have the same influence and longevity as brands run by Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey - and to use the immediacy and impact of digital communications for family-friendly ag education that goes beyond recipes. "One of the pillars of The Produce Moms is to help people know where their produce comes from," Lori says. "If you're buying a Simple Truth branded item from Kroger and it says Cincinnati, Ohio, [on the packaging] there is a huge amount of shoppers who think that tomato was actually grown in Cincinnati, Ohio." Listen to this week's episode and learn more about how Lori delivers her message as part of a thriving digital community.
Stout CEO Brent Shedd Explores Artificial Intelligence in Ag
Brent Shedd, CEO of Stout Industrial Technology, Inc., joins Voices of the Valley to examine Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the agriculture industry. Brent joined Stout with a background in technology and tends to approach farming issues through this lens. The decision for Stout to build its own hardware and software was based around Brent’s background with AI. Brent quotes agtech engineers: “If it’s dirty, dangerous, dull, or difficult, it’s a prime candidate for automation” when looking at where robots are needed on the farm. AI is not encumbered by historical process, and it uses data to focus on output from the farm. The podcast hosts and Brent also delve into what farmers focus on - that growers are not terribly concerned with the technology behind innovation as long as it works in the field.
Global Competition Requires Urgent Supply Chain Tech Innovation
On this week’s Voices of the Valley podcast, Dennis Donohue and Candace Wilson interview Gary Loh, the CEO of DiMuto and the Executive Chairman of First Alverstone Group, and Claire Pribula, the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Yield Lab Asia Pacific. Gary and Claire discuss the changes in the marketplace that have resulted in an urgent need for supply chain innovation. The DiMuto AgriFood trade solution was developed in response to these pressures to help growers, exporters, and importers trade with better visibility and easier tracking of finances. Yield Lab Asia Pacific invested in DiMuto to help farmers “do more with less” and adapt to a growing population and increasing environmental stresses. Finally, Gary and Claire give an overview of the DiMuto trials taking place all over the world. Technology is not just a business cost, they say, but a way to stay competitive in the global marketplace.
Jack Vessey on the Pressing Need to Implement Technology in Desert Agriculture
For Jack Vessey, President of Imperial Valley-based Vessey & Co., one fact of desert agriculture never changes: You have to do more with less. “We have to be proactive with trying things,” he said, noting that the pressures of labor, irrigation and crop protection lead him to always explore new technologies in his operations. The front of mind of these right now is, of course, water. “The future tells us that in the next five to 10 years we’re going to have to grow every seed with less water,” he said. “We’re looking out to see what the next great innovation is...at the end of the day, we have to have water to grow that crop.” From different irrigation techniques to different crops to soil amendments, Vessey is open to experimenting. “I don’t know about a silver bullet out there, but obviously our goal is to use less and less every year.”
Linking Small Farmers and Scientists on the International Stage
Dr. Eugenia Saini, the Executive Secretary of Fontagro, joins the podcast to talk about her objective of strengthening public and private strategic alliances that enhance international cooperation between scientists and farmers. It's a goal that requires boundless curiosity and big picture thinking; Eugenia has three degrees from the University of Buenos Aires and was a Fulbright Scholar at Cornell University. "If we're really going to get solutions to the farmers, we need to understand how the business works," she says. "Dedicate a few hours a week to read and learn something." The key to taking those learnings from the page to the real world at Fontagro, she says, is to work as a manager to effectively link small farmers and scientists. "This is a really big question...'We have funding - but why don't we get the impact that we expect?'" Eugenia says. "Working in networks is very important because what we need to do is have more impact."
Genius Beehives with Dick Rogers, Entomologist at Bayer Crop Science
In this week's episode of Voices of the Valley, Dick Rogers, Entomologist at Bayer Crop Science, discusses the need to meld nature and technology to create and monitor healthy honeybee colonies. Dick wants to move towards the creation of a "genius hive," which would use data to ensure the right conditions exist for thriving bee populations. Recently, "electronic scales have really helped beekeepers track weight gain and loss in hives," he says. "There are also things like in-hive sensors for temperature and overall humidity." In the coming years, he says, chemical sensors could detect pheromones to give the beekeeper as much information as possible to track colony health. "We need more than just visual inspections - we need data," he says. Listen to this week's episode to learn about funding strategies for these technologies and the future of high-tech beekeeping.
Hank Giclas Tribute, Part Two
In this episode, Voices of the Valley continues to honor Hank Giclas, the produce industry veteran who passed away in August. Bruce Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Taylor Farms; Edwin Camp, President of D.M. Camp & Sons; Joe Pezzini, Sr. Director of Ag Operations at Taylor Farms and Peter Wren-Hilton, Founder of Wharf42 Ltd., all join the podcast to celebrate the life of their beloved friend and colleague.
Remembering Hank Giclas, Part One
This is the first episode in a special two-part Voices of the Valley that is dedicated to the memory of produce industry stalwart Hank Giclas, the former Senior Vice President of Science, Technology & Strategic Planning at Western Growers, who passed away in August. Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, and Western Growers Assistant Vice President, Science, Sonia Salas share their memories of Hank and detail how his integrity and leadership impacted their professional development and personal growth. Join Voices of the Valley again next week as we continue to remember a friend and mentor to so many.
Sun World CEO David Marguleas Explains the Successful Strategies Behind a New Product Launch
From watermelon to stone fruit to table grapes, Sun World CEO David Marguleas has decades of experience in bringing vibrant new products to the consumer market. He visits the podcast this week to talk about how his company has made critical new hires and brought breeding in-house to stay at the forefront of molecular technologies. "In the middle of the pandemic we opened our new center for innovation in Wasco, Calif.," David says. "The new facility is a massive upgrade both technologically and functionally...and we've allowed for the expansion of that facility into a number of other crops we believe are begging for innovation that are underserved globally." (Hint: Think mangoes and cherries.) On the other end of the scale, does innovation ever reach a point of oversaturation? There are now more than 110 table grape varieties grown in California, David says, which means the marketplace is very competitive. The secret? Meet the customer where they are and focus on what they care about the most: "flavor, texture, shelf life, visual appeal" and two new traits, David says, "climate resistance and sustainability."
New Zealand Forecasts the Future of Agriculture Amid Climate Change
Peter Wren-Hilton, the Founder of Wharf42 Limited and the mastermind behind the upcoming 2035 Agri-Food-Tech Oceania Summit, joins the podcast to discuss how New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands are responding to the threat of climate change. "Climate change is real, it's happening, and it's happening much faster than we thought," he says. One real-world example: Growers of kiwifruit already anticipate production moving from New Zealand's North Island to the South Island, a complete upheaval of the current process. In addition, he gives a preview of the Oceania Summit in Auckland in October 2022, which will bring together growers, government officials and agtech leaders from around the globe - including California - to address the issue. "When you've got an environment where government, research and industry are working together, you can move much faster," he says.
En Solucion and Seeking the Food Safety Holy Grail
What do you do when you can't afford to make a mistake - but at the same time, you know you can't get risk to zero? In advance of the AgTechX Food Safety event on Aug. 18 at Reedley College, En Solucion CEO and Founder Alex Athey joins the podcast to discuss the potential of technology to mitigate the risks in food safety. A member of Western Growers' elite international Food Safety Cohort that will appear at the event, En Solucion is working to employ ozone nanotechnology to replace traditional post-harvest chlorine wash. "You can't get risk to zero," he says. "But we're trying to provide more tools in the the forms you can apply." A former astronomer who went on to implement technologies in the defense, oil and gas sectors, Alex learned a valuable lesson when he jumped to agtech. "For the first three years, sit in the back of the room and shut up," he says. "You just have to listen...then you can offer an outside perspective that maybe you don't see every day."
Grimmway Farms' Jeff Morrison on Using Business Acumen to Direct Agtech Investments
Jeff Morrison, the Director of Innovation and New Technology at Grimmway Farms, joins the podcast to discuss how he uses his interest in the business side of agriculture to dictate the choices his company makes on the technology side. For Morrison, solving the puzzle of how best to use agtech to make a return on a company's investment is a universal concern, and he's traveled extensively throughout Europe and Australia to learn how they have worked to solve the problems now faced by farmers in the Western U.S. "No one person ever has a monopoly on the best ideas," he says. Despite significant differences in market demands, weather and processing, Morrison says the common ground between global growers is valuable real estate to explore. "All of these organizations need technical people to help solve problems...you really want to combine insight that others have gained through the years."
Tom Nunes and Monitoring the Speed of Technology Adoption on the Farm
The Nunes Company President Tom "T5" Nunes joins the podcast to discuss how his company remains nimble and open to technology adoption in an industry beset with challenges.
The Nunes Company, known for the Foxy label, grows 40 conventional and 35 organic commodities. With that breadth of product, Tom is looking for common technologies that can scale across his production to create efficiencies. So far, the company has seen success with automation on the thinning and weeding side. "That's something that's not just emerging - it's becoming a common practice," he says. "Those are items that are being used regularly in our industry."
The Nunes Company has an operations committee that's dedicated to weighing the pros and cons of new technologies, he says. When an innovation hits the all marks, Tom is ready to pull the trigger.
"It doesn't take long - if we believe in it, we're going to go," he says. "At the end of the day you want to make sure you're doing the proper things on the day-to-day side to remain sustainable in your own business and move forward."
Albert Keck, Pt. 2: It's Time to Stop Just Preaching to the Choir About Ag
Hadley Date Gardens President and Western Growers Chair of the Board Albert Keck returns to the podcast to talk about what it will take for farmers and rural communities to change the narrative about the realities of earning a living in agriculture.
"We've been playing defense for so long...boy, I would love to be able to shift gears and play offense," Albert says, noting that real-world shortages may be what finally makes the issue come to the forefront. "I don't love going to the grocery stores and seeing empty shelves. What happens when there is no water?"
The ramifications of this, he says, could be a way to bridge the perpetual urban and rural divide. "Maybe that's where our opportunity is as Western growers," Albert says. "We can capitalize on the fact that consumers in our society realize the supply chain is hanging in the balance."
Hadley Date Gardens President and Western Growers Chair Albert Keck on the Future of Specialty Crops
Albert Keck, President of Hadley Date Gardens and current Western Growers Chair of the Board of Directors, joins the podcast to talk about his family's history in farming and how his decades of experience in the industry leads him to believe that the future could be bright for specialty crops.
“You want to talk about pessimism? When I was a kid all I could hear from the industry was: ‘Only old people eat dates’ and ‘All our customers are dying.’ It was like Eeyore in 'Winnie the Pooh.' Everything was negative,” Albert says. “What we've found recently, the Millennials - God bless them, for all the hassles they throw on us – they’re all healthy eaters. When I was going up we ate Cheetos and Doritos and hot dogs. And now the young adults want to have healthy food and real food. They are very conscious of what they eat and where it is grown.”
It's this change in consumer taste that Albert believes will define the coming years for fruit and vegetable growers - if the political landscape can work to empower domestic farmers. "We're out there banging on the drum to all of our political representatives, saying 'Hey, you keep throwing stuff at us - the ideals are not necessarily bad, we agree with a lot of the ideals - but we're in a global marketplace that doesn't care about those ideals,'" he says. "It seems like more and more a lot of our political system is definitely hamstringing domestic production. And so that's something we have to contend with as a culture. Are we going to want to grow these crops domestically, or do we just not care?"
Albert will rejoin the podcast next week for Part Two of his interview.
The Yield Lab and the Exponential Growth Potential of Latin America
This week's episode of Voices of the Valley explores the opportunities for agtech innovation and investment in Latin America. Accelerator The Yield Lab is dedicated to funding companies across the globe and then assisting with their growth and development for the long haul. "We're not in a rush," says Tomás Peña, Managing Director, The Yield Lab Latam, as he visits the podcast. "This is a business about talent. Eighty percent of the money we invest goes to talent." That talent base is particularly exciting in Latin America, he says, where trying to change the conventional conversation is the norm. "That's the beauty of Latin America," Peña says. "You have a lot of people thinking differently. You have a lot of people opening their minds, and saying 'Why not?'"
Food Safety and Using Automation to Mitigate Risk
Priority Sampling Founder and CEO Rafael Davila joins the podcast to talk about his company's efforts to improve the safety of the food supply chain. "I focus on the tissue sampling process, which is between the grower and the harvest," Rafael says of his company, which is currently focused on the leafy greens industry. In recent years testing has gone from a "Z-pattern" to a "serpentine pattern," he says, which goes row-by-row. "Sampling is a very labor-intensive process," he said. "We've had samplers walk hundreds of miles doing every single row...we wanted to focus on how to get the sampler through every single row, faster and easier." A veteran in food safety and a member of Western Growers' Food Safety Cohort, Rafael says the key for the future is to automate and add value by incorporating cameras and data analysis into the sampling: "I leapt into doing this full-time to perfect this process."
Space AG and the Secret to Producing More Food with Less Effort
Fresh off being accepted into the elite THRIVE agtech accelerator and winning the Innovation Award at THRIVE Demo Day 2022, Space AG Co-Founder and CEO Guillermo de Vivanco joins Voices of the Valley to discuss the evolution of his company in the digital agriculture arena. Space AG is a software platform that increases efficiencies through digitization and data collection - but always by keeping an eye on the human impact. "Once we started thinking about not only providing a solution that increases your yield, but also providing a solution that helps your people on the farm be more productive and enjoy more of their work and get back home sooner because they don't need to prepare reports at the end of the day ... that's when we really strengthened our value proposition," he said.
Farmer's Business Network and the Power of a Big Idea for Small Farmers
In the digital age, information is power - but data in a silo can't reach its full potential to create prosperity. Enter Farmer's Business Network, a farmer-driven information source that provides agronomic precision data to all its members. "We wanted to level the playing field for farmers," says Amol Deshpande, FBN's CEO and Co-Founder. With a goal of providing competitive opportunities for small farmers, the platform offers everything from data analytics to on-farm biological trialing programs. In this episode of Voices of the Valley, Dennis Donohue, the Executive Director of the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology, and Candace Wilson, Regional Director at FBN, speak with Deshpande about the power of aggregated data.
Verdant Robotics Pt. 2: Turning Fieldworkers Into Data Workers
Verdant Robotics Co-Founders CEO Gabe Sibley and COO Curtis Garner return to Voices of the Valley to continue their discussion on how they make sure their company focuses on creating agricultural solutions - instead of just showing off shiny robots. The duo envision a future where farmers and technologists work in tandem to turn fieldworkers into data workers, bridging the perpetual gap in the labor force by mechanization and teaching valuable skillsets to current employees. "The jobs that are on the farm are going to change," Curtis says. "There's going to be new jobs created to create new value on the farm."
Verdant Robotics and the Secret to Making Farmers Superhuman, Pt. 1
Verdant Robotics Co-Founders CEO Gabe Sibley and COO Curtis Garner join Voices of the Valley to discuss the power that digitized precision farming gives to the industry. Verdant Robotics wasn't "a solution looking for a problem," Gabe says; instead, the multi-action robot that provides both data analytics and crop applications is the result of a six-month road trip that was spent talking to farmers and refining the technology that is now used on everything from carrots to onions to garlic. "It's MBA business school 101," he says in this first part of a two-part episode. "Do what the client or the customer wants."
Don Cameron on How Innovation and Automation Can Boost California Agriculture
Don Cameron, Vice President and General Manager of Terranova Ranch, joins the Voices of the Valley to share his experiences with agtech start-ups looking to gain traction in California agriculture. "The ones that tend to come early and listen and hear what we're saying are the ones that tend to be successful," he says. Currently Terranova is using cutting-edge technology for automated irrigation, laser weeding and nitrogen capture, and Don says that the perpetual difficulties the industry faces with water, labor and regulation create an urgency to technology adoption in the state. "This is one of the answers for the future - alternatives that work well and are economical," he says.
Agtech's Role in Combating Climate Change
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."
Farming's Secret Weapon: California Community Colleges
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."
Cybersecurity and the Virtual Threats to Farming
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.
Working at the Digital Farm of the Future
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.