To use west side farmer Don Cameron’s words: farming is sexy right now to Silicon Valley tech companies. But the attraction won’t end up in a relationship if the start-ups don’t understand what farmers really need, Cameron told an audience gathered in Fresno Monday for the “Deeper Dive” forum on Water Ag Tech Innovation.
Hosted by Western Growers, the forum held at the Fresno Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall tackled the issue of water for agriculture and how technology can help. The audience of farmers and water technology companies also talked about the challenges in developing water technology that farmers will use.
During the state’s four-year drought, tech companies began working overtime to try and come up with solutions for farmers struggling with little to no irrigation water. Companies were popping up over night with many offering water-saving or water-efficiency tools.
Cameron said he is still getting one to two calls a week from companies offering to fix his water woes. But he and other veteran farmers said that for tech companies to truly succeed in agriculture, they need to pay attention to several key factors.
You have to know what your audience is thinking; it isn’t always just about irrigation
Stephen Patricio, president and chief executive offer of Westside Produce in Firebaugh
Stephen Patricio, president and chief executive officer of Westside Produce in Firebaugh, said tech companies need to think in broader terms when it comes to water technology. Many of the companies are focused on improving irrigation. But farmers use water in many different ways from washing crops to keeping livestock hydrated.
“You have to know what your audience is thinking, it isn’t always just about irrigation,” Patricio said.
Farmers may see the value in what a company is offering, but farm managers and those more closely involved in the daily management of the farm must also be convinced the investment in technology makes financial sense, said Stuart Woolf, president of Woolf Farming & Processing in west Fresno County.
Cannon Michael, president of Bowles Farming Co. in Los Banos, said some tech companies can provide too much information, causing farmers to go into “information overload.”
“You can have a fancy dashboard that is nice to look at, but unless there is a value proposition there it can be a waste of time,” Michael said.
Cameron said that as farmers increasingly become scrutinized by government regulators, farming will get costlier and more complex.
“We want technology that will help simplify our lives, that will make decisions easier,” he said.