SALINAS, Calif. — Software and artificial intelligence faced off with lettuce and strawberries at the AgTech Summit in Salinas, where two industries seemed to play well together.
Part of Forbes Media’s “Reinventing America” series, the summit put grower-shippers in the same room — a tent next to Taylor Farms headquarters – with big data, automation and science companies.
Taylor Farms CEO Bruce Taylor saw the result as a milestone for agriculture.
“One of the roadblocks to innovation has been that our industry is very competitive,” he said. “We read the book that said you’re supposed to compete with each other until you all die, and we’re getting pretty close to that now. This is really the first step in trying to build collaboration among our industry, among the ag players.”
“It’s a paradigm shift,” he said. “Because these tech companies need more than one company to adopt their technology. They need the industry.”
Silicon Valley Global Partners and the Steinbeck Innovation Cluster co-hosted the July 9 summit; 433 registered. Based on attendee comments Forbes Media will decide soon whether to have the event again in 2016, chief operating officer Mike Federle said.
Sammy Duda, vice president at Duda Farm Fresh Foods, said the technology topics held promise for growers.
“The biggest opportunity we have as a company is to try to move from a paper system to more electronic data to keep track of what we do,” Duda said. “Inputs and usage are the biggest areas that need tracking or benchmarking, so that we can see the effectiveness of those inputs.”
John Hartnett, CEO of Silicon Valley Global Partners, encouraged Salinas grower-shippers to look to San Jose for technology and investment.
“The biggest megatrend is the Internet of things,” he said. “We all know the challenges of the ag world: water, energy and labor. And we’ve got a massive demand to fill with two billion more people to feed. The world of technology one hour up the road is a great opportunity for us to set the stage.”
The Internet of things was one topic in a series of panel discussions. Others included investment, pathways to the consumer, drought, drones and issues facing California growers.
Tanimura & Antle harvest manager Brian Antle was honored for the company’s Plant Tape automated transplanting system, receiving the Forbes Impact Award for innovation.
Taylor was honored with the Forbes Impact Award for leadership. Taylor Farms’ mostly completed new headquarters building will house Western Growers Association’s Center for Innovation and Technology.
Taylor recalled growing up in a family business that was one of 30 in Salinas packing 24 heads of lettuce to a box. The need to differentiate, he said, drove his efforts in areas like value-added.
“Innovation has been the core of our success,” he said. “If we’re not different, we’re not having fun. Fun is equated with profit in my world, because the two kind of go together.”
In the summit’s Thrive Accelerator awards, Nuritas was honored as the top company. Other finalists recognized were:
- California Safe Soil
- GeoVisual Technologies
- Harvest Automation
- Innovative Green
- Inteligistics Inc.
- Lotpath Inc.
- mOasis Inc.
- Urban Farmers AG