As originally published on the City of Salinas website on October 25, 2018.
As the global population increases and climate change continues to impact agriculture, global food systems are facing new challenges and obstacles each year. Salinas – one of the leading agricultural centers of the world – is addressing these new challenges head-on with agtech innovation. Below are just a few food topics circulating the news that Salinas companies are actively working to solve.
1. Labor Shortages
Labor shortages are affecting farmers across the globe increasingly each year. To address this pressing issue, companies in the Salinas Valley are finding new ways to accomplish tasks that require fewer workers.
Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT) startup Bear Flag Robotics is testing one of the world’s first autonomous tractors in the Salinas Valley. When implemented, the technology allows tractors to operate without GPS coverage and enables a single supervisor to run an entire fleet of vehicles. With this innovative technology, Bear Flag addresses operational costs, weather effects, and most importantly labor shortages. Their technology has proven so successful, the startup is racing to bring the tractors to the commercial market before larger companies do.
Another initiative addressing the labor shortage in Salinas is the new Taylor Farms Training Center. Opened this past spring, the new facility is designed to train employees how to operate new automated and robotic machinery and technology in a safe, comfortable environment. The program includes hands-on learning with Taylor Farms’ technologies, workshops with machinery developers and manufacturers, and classes with Hartnell College professors who teach essential arithmetic and related skills necessary for operating the technologies. Employees can opt into the training on a volunteer basis, and upon completion of the program, participants may be eligible for higher positions and wages.
2. Renewable Energy
Historically, the agriculture industry has been one of the slowest adopters of renewable energy resources across the globe. According to the USDA, farms consume a majority of energy directly in the form of gasoline, diesel, electricity, and natural gas. As pollution and climate change continue affecting crop yields and overall farm productivity, it’s becoming increasingly critical for large farms to adopt cleaner forms of renewable energy.
Renewable energy startup Concentric Power is working to address this issue with cogeneration technologies. One of their biggest partnerships with Taylor Farms has been so successful, the salad and fresh food producer is striving to eventually produce food using 100 percent renewable and alternative energy. What’s more, Concentric Power is also reshaping investment for large-scale renewable energy installments with a new $100 million funding program. This new approach spares customers upfront capital investment and makes renewable technology scalable and more apt for VC investment.
3. Water Scarcity
A third issue plaguing farms globally is water scarcity. According to the Water Project, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of freshwater withdrawal. While large farms have developed sophisticated irrigation systems that cut back on water usage, more will have to be done to address this pressing issue. Through the innovative Pure Water Monterey project, the city of Salinas has developed a first-of-its-kind advanced water recycling technology. The new, sophisticated system can purify wastewater, stormwater and food industry processing water into high-quality drinking water for the city of Monterey and the surrounding region.
WGCIT startup SWIIM System has developed a system alongside the USDA they call Sustainable Water and Innovative Irrigation Management that allows growers to quantify, protect, and monitor their crop-water usage in a precise, cost-effective way. Named one of Forbes’ Most Innovative AgTech Startups for the past two years, SWIIM System’s technology is saving farmers money, protecting their allocations and greatly reducing water usage. Currently, the company is focusing its efforts in California, Arizona and Colorado, with plans for expansion into other western states in the coming years.
As the world continues to take note of the many pressing issues affecting the global food system, companies and organizations in Salinas are working to find real solutions to these problems. To learn more about the ways Salinas is affecting global change through agtech and innovation, get in touch with the city’s Economic Development Manager, Andy Myrick.