Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Salinas Valley Ag Tech Summit to Focus on Leveraging Innovation Through Skilled Workforce


March 4, 2020 — Santa Cruz, CA

(Photo: Attendees peruse Salinas-based company Parabug’s booth at the 2019 Salinas Valley Ag Tech Summit. Source: Hartnell College)

Summit is an opportunity to drive “national conversation” about agriculture’s rapidly changing workforce needs

While exploring the “what” and “how” of emerging technologies, the 2020 Salinas Valley Ag Tech Summit on March 17-18 in Salinas will also sharply focus on the “who” – preparing workers at all levels to leverage continual innovation in production agriculture.

The seventh annual summit on the main campus of Hartnell College, in partnership with the Western Growers Association, will deliver a two-day program of actionable expertise from recognized leaders in agricultural education and throughout the fresh fruits and vegetables industry.

Summit chair Dennis Donohue, director of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, a premier ag tech startup incubator based in Salinas, said the summit is an opportunity to help drive an essential “national conversation” about agriculture’s rapidly changing workforce needs.

“We will provide a thorough overview of the latest technology, as these events typically do,” Donohue said, “but we’re also going to talk about the knowledge and abilities needed to deliver on that technology – and then we’ll pivot to the challenge of making sure our workers and managers have those skill sets.”

The two-day summit will begin on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, with an Irish-themed VIP reception from 5:30-8 p.m., featuring a welcome from Hartnell’s new superintendent/president and a “Fireside Chat” with three Irish ag tech entrepreneurs, as well as craft beer, wine and deluxe hors d’oeuvres. March 18 will offer a full day of expert speakers, panels and exhibitors focused on technology, automation and workforce education.

The panel of Irish entrepreneurs will feature Mareese Keane, growth strategy consultant for Fieldin and its Smart Farming Platform; Dr. Padraig Whelan, chief scientist for beekeeping startup ApisProtect; and Mick Heatherington, vice president of sales for Prophet, developer of inventory-centric consignment accounting.

“We’re going to have some fun because it’s St. Patrick’s Day,” Donohue said, “but it underscores the fact that ag tech is a global game, and the Irish are among the players.”

To open the reception, new Hartnell Superintendent/President Dr. Patricia Hsieh (pronounced “SHEE-uh”) will highlight Hartnell’s commitment to continually strengthen ag education through degree programs, partnerships with four-year universities and skill-focused training for current workers.

Dr. Hsieh, who joined Hartnell in September from Miramar College in San Diego, serves on the boards of both the American Association of Community Colleges and NC3, the National Coalition of Certification Centers for career technical education.

The Main Day program on March 18 will start at 7 a.m. with breakfast, the Exhibitors Showcase and an IMAX movie showing in the Hartnell Planetarium, located in the STEM Center. The Monterey Bay Chapter of California Association of Pest Control Advisers (CAPCA) will present a daylong series of professional workshops in all aspects of pest management, worth up to seven education units. The program of panels and speakers will start promptly at 9.

Following a first panel discussion to provide a technology overview and a second panel drilling down on automation technology, the day’s third panel will center on a “New Kind of Worker,” moderated by Danielle McShane, chief administrative officer for Salinas Valley-based Merrill Farms LLC.

Panel participants are Dr. Deneen Guss, superintendent of the Monterey County Office of Education; Nancy Gutierrez, agriculture project coordinator at Reedley College; Marcus Shebl, vice president of operations at Taylor Farms; and Chrissie Davis, vice president of Core Builders.

All three of the morning panels will be held in the planetarium, offering ideal facilities for presentation of participants’ video and PowerPoint content.

Finally, a Keynote Panel following lunch will pull the day’s themes together. It will feature senior executives from three leading produce companies: Miles Reiter, CEO of Driscoll’s; John D’Arrigo, CEO of D’Arrigo Brothers; and Tom Nunes V, president of Foxy Produce. Moderating will be Reiter’s daughter, Brie Reiter Smith, who is director of Driscoll’s quality systems design and technology and supply chain.

“They will talk about the impact of innovation and the equal importance of investing in education,” Donohue said. “You have to invest in education and make sure education is represented in the board room to make innovation happen.”

The day will conclude with a 3 p.m. keynote address and Q&A from Mark Hanchett, CEO of Atlis Motor Vehicles, a start-up company in Mesa, Ariz., focused on delivering the first battery-electric full-sized pickup truck for the U.S. market.

As always, the summit will provide unique opportunities for learning and networking while supporting agribusiness students and programs at Hartnell College. It also will spotlight the Salinas Valley’s emergence as an incubator and hub for innovation and development in ag tech.

Community members, ag industry members, growers, PCAs, CCAs, QALs, pilots, students and participants in ag tech and software industries are encouraged to attend. The event is organized by the Hartnell College Agriculture Business and Technology Institute in collaboration with the Monterey Bay Chapter of CAPCA.

Several ticket options are available, including a best-value price of $60 for both days’ events. Exhibitor locations – both single and double booths, indoor outdoor – remain available, as do a variety of sponsorship packages. To learn more, visit the Salinas Valley Ag Tech website at


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