SALINAS, Calif. — The third annual Forbes AgTech Summit highlights progress already made and the continuing need for greater collaboration between the Salinas Valley and Silicon Valley to solve a weighty list agricultural problems.
“This is a unique moment in California and we have a unique opportunity in California in the nexus of agriculture and technological innovation,” Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California and former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, said June 28 at the summit.
The summit attracted more than 680 attendees and 50 exhibitors, with the first day looking at indoor growing opportunities and challenges and a recounting of local and global ag tech success stories.
Napolitano said California is facing unprecedented challenges to its ecosystem as a whole and to the food system in particular, citing worries about changing climate conditions, deteriorating soil health and a shrinking supply of skilled farm laborers.
“As we confront the problems in California today, we must ask ourselves, how will ag and tech solve these problems together? How can Salinas Valley and Silicon Valley work more harmoniously?”
Agricultural technology may be buzzwords, but there is a need for solutions and service to the industry, she said. The online news company TechCrunch reported that ag tech startup companies have raised more than $320 million so far this year, more than three times the amount over the same period last year.
“For some it may be all about cashing in on the latest gold rush, but for those of us here today and for those of us at the University of California, it is about using ingenuity to engineer desperately needed solutions,” he said. “It’s about combining our strengths and colloboration to ensure a stable future to help the environment and a strong economy for communities in California and across the globe,” she said.
The University of California launched an initiative three years ago to find solutions to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion people by 2025, she said.
“They connect innovation with the state’s farmers who produce half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables and export food around the world, constantly generating and testing new ideas,” she said.
“One of these ideas might just turn the California ag industry or the tech world — or both — on their heads,” she said.
She said solar-powered greenhouse research from the University of California at Santa Cruz helps growers reduce initial capital costs and lowers the cost of greenhouse operations.
Napolitano also mentioned James Rogers, the University of California doctoral student who became science director and CEO of Apeel Sciences. The company, established five years ago, has invented a natural protective barrier that nearly doubles the shelf life for more than two dozen fruits and vegetables.
“Their work has the potential to solve a persistent problem for the agriculture and food processing industry and dramatically advance the fight against food waste,” she said.
As much progress has been made so far, Napolitano said there is much more room to grow.
“There is a great possibility for a deeper conversation, a more productive partnership between the great valleys of California — from Salinas to the Silicon Valley and beyond.”