Dec 12, 2022
California: Well suited for robots

California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross told attendees at the inaugural FIRA-USA conference they are part of the important first steps to solving problems of tomorrow.

“What are we doing today to invest in equipping the talent of tomorrow?” Ross asked in her Oct. 18 speech, kicking off the conference. She had just returned from New Zealand for a meeting on climate smart initiatives and had tested positive for COVID-19, so she delivered her remarks through a video presentation.

She gave credit to the organizations involved in presenting the FIRA-USA event:

  • The Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation Initiative
  •  GOFAR (Global Organization for Agricultural Robotics)
  •  Western Growers
  •  University of California-Merced
  •  California State University, Fresno
  • University of California-Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
click to enlarge

“We cannot do it alone, we cannot do it as one organization, or one company, and what this coalition of people have done with their organizational prowess, what has brought us all together today, is to really think collectively,” Ross said. “What are the agri-tech needs of today and of the future?

“Where are the solutions that need to be immediately adopted, and where are the solutions that are going to require even more innovation and collaboration,” she said.

She credited Western Growers for advancing ag-tech through the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology, which opened in Salinas, Calif., in late 2015.

Every year, Western Growers supports startups and other tech companies through the AgSharks pitching competition, which happens during the organization’s annual meeting in November.

Walt Duflock, vice president of AgTech Innovation for Western Growers, and Dennis Donohue, the executive director of the Western Growers Center for Innovation, appeared on FIRA-USA panels.

Duflock commended the recent effort by the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation Initiative, which learned in September it had earned a $65.1 million federal grant, through the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better Regional Challenge.” It was the only proposal from California that made the grade.

The F3 coalition is led by the Central Valley Community Foundation, with the City of Fresno, Merced Community College, Fresno Metro Ministry and the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation.

Duflock said the grant is not an innovation grant, but an economic development grant, which means success will be counted by how many jobs and how much funding is generated in ag tech through the grant.

“Those are great metrics to have,” he said. “Every rural area supports ag.”

Duflock said that California should continue to see success in ag robotic research and development.

“Because we have so many specialty crops, we’re in the leadership position in a lot of ways,” he said. “We have the acreage that needs to get tested, and we’re working at being a better second market for the international players that are out there, because there are a lot of startups that are not in the U.S. that are building cool solutions.”

— Chris Koger, editor

California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, who kicked off FIRA-USA, delivered her remarks by video because she caught COVID-19 immediately before the conference while at a climate change event in New Zealand. Photo: Ben Solati

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