From droughts and worker shortages to food safety, the agriculture industry faces an increasing number of challenges on a daily basis. In Salinas, the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology (WGCIT) is dedicated to solving these challenges and more, by supporting agtech entrepreneurs and facilitating relationships between the technology and agriculture worlds.
Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers in Arizona, California and Colorado, and its members produce more than half the fresh produce in the country. In December 2015, the organization opened its first innovation center – a co-working space for agtech startups – in downtown Salinas. The center started with six agtech startups and has grown to more than 35 resident companies.
WGCIT’s startups range from homegrown Salinas companies to firms based across the United States and around the world – focused on everything from renewable energy to IoT for the farm. Here’s a look at three WGCIT members that are seeing exciting momentum:
- Founded in Salinas, HeavyConnect creates farming management tools to help growers save time by simplifying operational tasks – from managing personnel to tracking equipment. The company works with local higher education institutions Hartnell College and California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) to hire and mentor young talent in Salinas, and its software engineering team is 75 percent female and 100 percent Latino. Check out the company in action in this recent PBS Newshour story.
- HarvestPort, based in San Francisco, is bringing the concept of the shared economy to agriculture. Dubbed the “Airbnb of farm equipment,” the company has developed an online marketplace where farmers can rent out unused equipment during their off-season – instead of letting it sit idle – to earn revenue and cut costs. The platform also benefits farmers who need to procure equipment during their seasonal peaks and want to avoid the capital onus of owning. In March 2017, the company announced it had raised $2.5 million in Series A funding, which will be used for product development and sales and marketing as it expands the types of equipment offered through the platform.
- San Francisco-based Trace Genomics helps farmers understand the health of their soil by detecting pathogens and beneficial microbes. The company has developed a comprehensive microbial evaluation – essentially a genetic test for soil – that can help farmers understand the make-up of their soil and what techniques might be most effective to use on their fields. In January 2017, Trace Genomics kicked off a partnership with Western Growers to advance its Soil Microbial Health Initiative, “a community-wide effort to advance scientific and practical knowledge about soil biology through a greater understanding of the millions of microbes in the soil,” according to the company. Trace Genomics has been featured in Fast Company and Forbes, and won the Innovation Award at the Forbes Ag Tech Summit 2016.
For more information on the WGCIT and the innovative startups housed there, visit wginnovation.com.
Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology from WG Center for Innovation & Tech on Vimeo.