This article shares what the FarmX team has heard and experienced firsthand in the Central Valley of California:
Worsening drought conditions, a boom in the water well drilling industry and complete water uncertainty going forward.
“Now in its fourth year, the Climate and Agriculture Summit brought together farmers, ranchers, educators and policy makers to look for ways to deal with the drought, including conservation and management methods.
To learn about the drought’s ripple effects from those who experience them first-hand, a trio of ag representatives — Tom Willey, Joe Morris and Jutta Thoerner — shared their perspectives.
Willey and his wife, Denesse, own and operate T&D Willey Farms, a 75-acre certified organic operation in Madera County.
Willey, who started his farm in 1981, said in his region everyone is drilling wells because the Madera Irrigation District has no water to allocate to farmers. More than five years ago Willey drilled a new 500-foot well on his property, right before it started getting drier.
“It’s just a matter of time for all of us,” he said, referring to wells drying up.”
FarmX was recently featured in a Fast Company article covering the Ag Tech movement and opportunities.
“The RoyseLaw AgTech Incubator, an initiative spun out of a law firm that works with clients in the industry, is one of them. Roger Royse, founder of Royse Law, has been watching the ag-tech space for a few years. “I could see the stuff coming out of the tech community wasn’t getting adopted,” he says. “What was missing was an incubator that would give these companies business skills and also help get them in front of the relevant markets.”
Royse has so far announced 11 of his 15 startups. They include FarmX, a company developing a real-time farm health-monitoring tool; Ayrstone, which is developingoutdoor wireless networks for farms; AgRite, a startup that has created an automated wireless fertilizer injection and irrigation system; and RapidBio Systems, which is working on a handheld pathogen detection system. He’s hopeful that the incubator’s mentors, who are closely involved in the agriculture industry, can help with introductions. “Farmers in [Central Valley farming community] Salinas—the last thing they want to see is another sensor salesman. They want to see someone who’s credible, who they know and trust that says this is state of the art,” he says.
The potential market for Royse’s startups is big. For farmers—especially those in California, which is where many Silicon Valley agriculture startups are focusing their energies—one of the most pressing issues is drought. The state is approaching its fourth summer with dangerously low water levels, and the economic impact on the agriculture industry will run into the billions. If a series of, say, high-tech sensors that can tell farmers precisely how much fertilizer to apply to a plant can save money at a time when they’re already struggling, the farmers will get onboard. Even in times when drought isn’t an issue, products that help farmers come up with time and money-saving plans for future planting are attention-grabbing.”
An LA Times OpEd piece highlights the incredibly poor water conditions in California.
“As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.
Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.
Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.”
As a $46 billion per year industry in California alone, agriculture has attracted the attention of the Silicon Valley. Technologies are regularly being developed to allow farmers to farm more efficiently, increase production, access new markets and capture useful data. Agri-tech or “AgTech” touches numerous technologies, including software, cleantech, big data and robotics, and the venture community has started to support this new sector with investment. Join us for a one hour discussion of this new field, including trends and opportunities in AgTech with a panel of experts from farming, technology and finance.
“According to CleanTech Group, which connects corporations with innovation via an online platform called i3, corporate and venture equity investment in the agriculture and food space increased 29 percent between the second and third quarters of 2014, with a total of $239 million invested — a 48 percent increase since the same time the previous year.”
FarmX is featured along with 10 other AgTech Firms at the RoyseLaw Silicon Valley AgTech Conference on May 11, 2015.
“2015’s most promising RoyseLaw AgTech Incubator companies have been selected to be featured at the annual RoyseLaw Silicon Valley AgTech Conference, to be held on May 11, 2015 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California,” announced Roger Royse, founder of the RoyseLaw AgTech Incubator. The 11 startups, all innovators at the crossroads of agriculture and technology, will exhibit and pitch at the upcoming AgTech Conference, which sold out last year and is now selling admission to the public via Eventbrite.
Selected excerpts from Rob LeClerc’s recent post on AgFunder News:
“AgTech did not receive much attention from venture capital prior to 2012. Investment in 2012 was around $150M – and then it exploded to $1.8 B in 2014. Investment momentum is continuing into 2015. Much of this investment is in the same technology that has investors fired up in Silicon Valley – software, drone technology, IOT, big data, life sciences, and mobility.”
“Many farmers use consultants or ag extension agents, and you will get farthest if you can be recommended by one of them.”
“Hot Areas of Current Investment
This is the area creating the most buzz in Silicon Valley, and the one with the biggest potential to be disruptive. It encompasses many technologies and crosses numerous steps in the value chain such as genetic engineering, information technology, drones, sensors, and smart machinery. Data and analytical systems can inform decision-making and make more sustainable and profitable use of land. It is also an area getting quickly saturated.
Analytics engine at core The biggest challenge and most value-add will be to take all that data generated from multiple sources and turn it into information that a farmer can use to make informed decisions through real-time data coalition, analytics, and decision support tools. The nonaggregated data is noise. The power (and returns) will be with those who have the analytics engine. Monsanto is certainly moving in that direction with Climate Corp. The other majors are doing the same. The aggregator must have access to growing systems, farms, infrastructure, and channel, and understand how they work.
Technologies that feed into the analytics engine
Many start-ups are developing supporting technology for the analytics engine – drones, sensors, software, machinery, hardware. Many of these technologies will end up being commoditized in the future but they need investment now. There are good returns to be made in their development.”
Recent list of top 5 trends in agriculture show Technology Adoption and Big Data in the lead.
This is exactly why FarmX is bringing you the FarmMap.
“January is typically a natural time to reflect on the past and consider the future. Dwight Koops, president of Kansas-based Crop Quest, spent some time thinking about which trends in agriculture he thought would matter most in 2015 and beyond. Here are his top five.
1. Technology adaptation. “This almost can’t be avoided,” Koops says. “Technology is being inserted into the base model of almost everything required to put a crop in the ground, and harvested.”
2. Big data. Big data is still a buzzword – and rightly so – but the challenge right now is figuring out how to get this data to work for a farmer at the local level, he adds.
“Converting data to actionable solutions is what needs to happen to make all this technology worth the investment,” he says. “Without solutions, just viewing data is pretty much worthless. This process takes a tremendous amount of time, filled with frustrations, trial and error. But when data becomes actionable, ti becomes very powerful and worth the effort.”