There is a drastic shift underway in how the food and agriculture industries will conduct their operations as they adopt burgeoning technologies that can be beneficial to all aspects of agriculture—from saving farmers water in drought seasons to cutting costs for producers to providing better transparency to consumers.
On the front lines of the transforming ag industry is Seana Day, a native Turlocker and former tech investment banker who specialized in advising mergers and acquisitions for technology companies. Now she uses her expertise to go back to her roots in agriculture, helping usher in what will certainly be a new era in the industry.
She speaks passionately about being involved in investing in ag tech companies that can grow the economy and develop modernization in a field that sometimes clings to archaic practices.
But Day knows that there are a lot of areas ripe for improvement.
“We need to develop a culture of innovation. To do that, you need ideas, capital and talent. We’ve got some great ideas here. The people in the Central Valley understand what the challenges are and those are the people that should be driving the technological innovation. But we haven’t done a great job of developing the talent pipeline, and we don’t have enough capital for people with great ideas.”
With an enormous task ahead, she and her team of venture capitalists are working to solve that problem.
There are two projects she is involved with that help start-up companies get the capital they need to transform their ideas from brain to application.
Better Foods Ventures invests anywhere from $250,000 to a million and a half for just that purpose, while The Mixing Bowl supports Better Foods and raises awareness of needs in agriculture. The former also raises funds (now that number is around $30 million) to infuse into tech businesses.
Even with this much needed cash boost, there still lies issues that continue to plague the agriculture industry.
One of those problems is the logistics of delivery. Products are being shipped all over the country, but there is no standardization of programs to assist with communication, according to Day. Farmers, processors, and dispatchers need to be on the same page. They can’t do that if the farmer writes his figures and notes on a notepad with a stubby pencil, the food processor is tabulating shipments with Excel, and the dispatcher is using something completely different.
Reducing costs is also something that can benefit farmers, producers, and consumers, but the technology needs to be in place to make that happen.
Crop production could be quicker, more efficient, allowing farmers to make faster decisions. For example, growers can implement robotic devices such as lettuce thinners. This would help with labor shortage, which is another problem altogether.
Technology can also help save water, which in turn saves money. Day gives an example of a farmer in Madera whose crops had been yellowing and pest-infested. He then utilized two pieces of ag tech--soil moisture probes and a weather station--to monitor his usage. He found that he was overwatering, and the next season he turned his pumps on in April instead of February. The pests were gone, he didn’t suffer a decrease in yield, and he saved water for the next season.
Day sees examples like this as just the beginning.
“We need to foster a culture of innovation locally so it can provide implementation and support,” she said.
No matter how much technology is a part of agriculture, the farmer will always be the spine that holds everything in place.
“Technology (won’t) replace traditional farming; it’s a decision support tool…farmers will always be central to crop production, they will just be doing more with fewer resources.”