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Western Growers’ AgTech Incubator Finds Solutions to Feed America’s Growing Population

By Stephanie Thara Metzinger
Western Growers
Special to Santa Cruz Tech Beat

March 13, 2018 — Salinas, CA

(Photo above: College students returning to Salinas Valley for the holidays last December were invited to network with agtech leaders at WGCIT’s second annual Home for the Holidays mixer. Source: Western Growers)

The Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT) serves as a hub for the accelerated development and rapid deployment of innovative solutions to help farmers feed more people with fewer resources.

Tucked away in the heart of Salinas, just a stone’s throw away from Santa Cruz and the Silicon Valley, lies the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, a tech incubator where more than 50 start-up companies are inventing software, robotics and other innovative technologies to solve agriculture’s biggest challenges.

The global population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion within the next 30 years, which means that food production will need to increase by more than 70 percent to feed these additional hungry mouths. Already facing the toughest regulatory environment in the world, California farmers will have to accomplish this monumental task with fewer workers, as the industry is facing chronic labor shortages, fewer natural resources like water, and fewer inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers.

To help farmers overcome these increasingly difficult times, Western Growers (WG)—an agricultural trade association—launched its Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT) to serve as a hub for the accelerated development and rapid deployment of innovative solutions to help farmers feed more people with fewer resources.

The WGCIT, which opened its doors in December 2015, brings entrepreneurs together with farmers to develop innovative solutions to the biggest challenges facing agriculture. In just two years, WGCIT has already provided invaluable resources to startups to help them bring their product to market. This includes exclusive networking opportunities with top growers; events where startups can showcase their product to potential clients and investors; and scholarships to help fund the development of additional resources. This is in addition to access to work stations, traditional office amenities and monthly business development workshops.

In fact, two of the startups in the WGCIT—Hazel Technologies and AgVoice—received a $2.25 million total investment offer from S2G Ventures (Seed 2 Growth) during WG’s AgSharks™ competition in October. During events like these, startups receive access to the 2,400 agricultural companies WG represents to collaborate on new technologies or receive feedback on existing solutions—something that is unique to WG’s tech incubator.

Many partnerships between startups and farmers have resulted from the relationships built in the WGCIT, moving the needle forward on creating workable solutions for ag. For example, Concentric Power developed a pre-engineered, prefabricated, modular power plant design that was installed at Taylor Farms’ food processing facility. The new cogeneration plant helps Taylor Farms generate onsite electric power for low temperature refrigeration, producing an annual energy offset of 64 percent.

HeavyConnect, another WGCIT startup, has helped many WG members, including Dole, Driscoll’s and Gill’s Onions, remove the paperwork from farming operations by providing software that allows owners to utilize digital timecards, easily track equipment and complete food safety inspections with a click of a button…all from a smartphone.

Additionally, California Safe Soil recently opened a new production facility that will turn 32,000 tons of discarded organic waste per year into nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer and feed for agricultural use. The company’s Harvest-to-Harvest fertilizer has helped farms like Ratto Bros. increase crop yields while reducing water usage.

To dramatically increase our global food production, we need a systematic transformation of the way we cultivate our food. That’s where technology comes in, and that’s where WG’s Center for Innovation & Technology plays a key role.

To learn more about the WGCIT or the agtech startups, visit http://www.wginnovation.com.

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