California's Central Valley is a worldwide leader in the production of food. Now, local officials want to use the Valley's skills to make it a center for the development of water technology.
It may already be happening, several speakers said Tuesday at the Blue Tech Valley Water Conference in Clovis.
The Valley is home to 160 water-related businesses as well as other support organizations, including the Claude Laval Water & Energy Technology Incubator and the International Center for Water Technology at Fresno State.
Grundfos, an international pump maker, opened a research-and-development center in Fresno last year. The center will explore ways to increase water efficiency and conservation.
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Event organizers say those efforts represent the foundation for what could be a much larger industry -- and economic driver -- for the Valley.
Kirk Nagamine, CEO of the Central Valley Business Incubator, said the Valley is well-suited to become the Silicon Valley of the water-technology world. It has access to higher education institutions, interest from venture capitalists and thousands of farm acres for research.
"We are open to do business, and we want the world to know it," said Nagamine, who also heads the Water & Energy Technology Incubator, a host for start-up water-technology companies.
The conference ends today and was designed to bring together investors, water-related companies and researchers.
Peter Williams, chief technology officer for IBM's Big Green Innovations, said data collection could become a vital part of how farmers approach irrigation. Sensors can be used to fine-tune how much water, fertilizer or chemicals are applied to specific crops, saving money and resources.
"This will be a data-driven business," Williams said.
But getting farmers to adopt and pay for new technology can be a challenge.
The makers of water-saving irrigation equipment say that while many farmers use drip-irrigation systems, they are surprised some still use flood irrigation.
"We are a little disappointed that we have not seen better traction in some areas," said John Vikupitz of Netafim USA.
Part of the problem can be money. In tough years, farmers have fewer resources to spend on updating equipment.
That isn't the case in other countries, said Aric Olson, president of Jain Irrigation Inc. Olson said India, Turkey and Mexico subsidize farmers to help install drip-irrigation systems.
Vikupitz suggested it may take change in government policy to make water-saving technology more attractive to growers.