Inside Forbes Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit 2015

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Fri. July 10th, 2015 - by Jordan Okumura-Wright

SALINAS, CA - This week, Salinas, California further emerged as a hub for agricultural research and resources with the Forbes Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit.

The sold-out event brought together several hundreds of the smartest minds in the Silicon Valley and Salinas Valley to tackle everything from the drought in California to the rise of the machines in growing and harvesting practices. Attendees from all over the world converged in Salinas, including representatives from Japan, Uganda, Ireland, Indonesia, Chile, Israel, Vietnam, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia and Canada.

The event kicked off Wednesday night at Constellation Winery in Gonzales, California, where attendees had the opportunity to meet with some of the most compelling startups in agtech while tasting local wines and cultivating new relationships.

Those insights and innovations that began to take root on Wednesday continued into Thursday, bringing a host of speakers to touch on the challenges in food production and agriculture as we look to produce 70 percent more food globally by 2050.

Tom Nassif, President and CEO, Western GrowersTom Nassif, President and CEO of Western Growers and a partner to the Summit, spoke during the panel: The World’s Biggest Opportunity. Nassif started by saying, “I think there will be some dramatic changes and some things are going to stay the same when it comes to what farms and what farmers are going be doing and what farms are going to be looking like over the next ten years. The wonderful thing about this industry, and about the produce growers and shippers, is that they don’t wait for innovation to come to them, they go ahead and seek it out. They know what their needs are, and they try to find people who want to provide that sort of technology.”

Salinas, California, is itself, the number one producer of fresh food in the U.S., presenting a $9 billion industry. There are a host of individuals within this field who have continued to make an impact and set the bar for the rest of the industry. Bruce Taylor and Brian Antle, both of whom were recognized with many others at the Forbes AgTech event, are a couple of those innovative individuals.

Honorable Joe Gunter, Mayor of Salinas, Presenting the Forbes' Impact Award in Leadership to Bruce Taylor, Founder and CEO of Taylor Farms

Bruce Taylor, Founder and CEO of Taylor Farms was presented with the Forbes Impact Award in Leadership by the City of Salinas.

Bruce Taylor and the Taylor Farms Team

Brian Antle, Harvest Manager for Tanimura & Antle, was presented with the Forbes Impact Award in Innovation by Western Growers and the organization’s very own Vic Smith, President and CEO of JV Smith Companies and the WGA Chairman of the Board.

Brian Antle Receiving the Forbes Impact Award in Innovation from Vic Smith, Western Growers Chairman and President & CEO of JV Smith Companies

Another highlight of the Forbes’ event was Rise of the Machines. Innovators Ben Chostner, Vice President of Business Development for Blue River Technologies, Greg Halverson, CEO of Black Gold Farms, and Cory Reed, Senior Vice President of the Intelligent Solutions Group for John Deere, discussed everything from tractors that plow the fields by themselves to the automation of precision ag.

In addition, Driscoll's Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Murphy, spoke on the panel Farm to Table: The Changing Path to the Consumer, along with David McInerney, Co-Founder & Chief Food Adventurer for FreshDirect.  Moderator Fred Poust, Senior Vice President, Conferences & Business Development, Forbes Media sparked the panel discussion on topics that included the ways that different purchasing outlets are evolving the channels for consumers and their groceries.  Bringing a range of grocery options to the consumer and creating visibility into the supply chain has changed the way that we shop and perceive our food.

Kevin Murphy and Panel

The Thrive Accelerator Awards also brought a unique group of agtech startups to the forefront of the event. The Thrive Accelerator is a highly selective mentorship and investment program for technology enabled startups in the Precision Agriculture area.

This group was selected by some of the industry’s top technology and thought leaders.

Judges for the awards included:

  • Mark Bartolomeo, Vice President of Global Enterprise Sales, Verizon
  • Chris Boody, Chief Technology Officer for SVG Partners
  • Hank Giclas, Senior Vice President of Science, Technology, and Strategic Planning for Western Growers
  • John Hartnett, Founding Partner of SVG Partners
  • Bruce Taylor, Founder and CEO of Taylor Farms

Award recipients included:

  • The Thrive Accelerator Award for Agtech in Sustainability
    • Awarded to California Safe Soil for its H2H™ (Harvest-to-Harvest) product, which provides sustainable value in recycled food and good stewardship of resources.

From Left to Right: Bruce Taylor, CEO of Taylor Farms, John Hartnett, President of Irish Technology Leadership Group

  • Overall Thrive Accelerator Award
    • Awarded to Nuritas’ Founder Dr. Nora Khaldi for the company’s work developing healthy ingredients using food waste biomasses and other sustainable sources to optimize resources.

Bruce Taylor of Taylor Farms, Nora Khaldi of Nuritas, John Hartnett of SVG Partners, Mark Bartolomeo of Internet of Things M2M Connected Solutions

The event also addressed the future of agriscience with advancements in chemistry, genetics and biotechnology to create breakthroughs for farmers and increase food production and increase efficiency. In many ways, this inaugural event was the beginning of many insightful and incredible conversations, with many yet to come.

I’d like to thank the team at Forbes for this amazing opportunity to see and hear first hand the possibilities of what can happen when agriculture and technology truly intersect.

Forbes AgTech Summit