Global partnership could bring more AG tech to Salinas Valley

Western Growers teaming up with New Zealand firm

Global partnership could bring more AG tech and boost Central Coast economy

SALINAS, Calif. - It is a major deal that could bring more agriculture technology to the Salinas Valley.

The trade organization Western Growers, which has offices in Salinas, announced on Wednesday they have established a formal partnership with another firm in New Zealand, one they say will help accelerate Ag Tech development.

"There's a lot of technology down there that we think has applicability up here and vice versa," said Hank Giclas, the senior vice president of science, technology and strategic planning at Western Growers.

He says both New Zealand and farmers in the western United States grow many similar crops. And both face similar issues like labor shortages and regulatory pressures.

"That translates into the need for technology to be more precise in terms of their use of key inputs like water and fertilizer and agriculture chemicals," said Giclas.

Western Growers' partnership with Agritech New Zealand will allow Western Growers to serve as the landing point for Ag Tech companies from that country.

"We'll take a look at those companies and try to match them up with US growers that are willing to help them vet their technology here and maybe work with them to refine their technology," said Giclas.

He says it does not matter where the solution comes from, rather working together can only help. This is true especially in the field of robotics, where Giclas says New Zealand has an edge over the crop industry in the United States.

"Robotics is a key area that we're both interested in, so just as a concept, one of the things that we're talking about doing is setting up a robotics academy or something along those lines," said Giclas.

Technology companies from all over the world are trying to come to the United States, and that is a good thing for the Salinas Valley.

"Even if a company comes in from let's say New Zealand or Israel, they're looking to hire locally," said Dennis Donohue, the consulting director for the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology in Salinas based in the Taylor building. "That's real important so you make that connections with the local agriculture community. So that's an added plus."

Giclas says we could see fully automated harvesting equipment in the near future, which would help solve some of the labor shortages. Right now the challenge is trying to figure out how machines can harvest more delicate crops in the same way human workers can.

He hopes partnerships like the one with New Zealand will bring that future closer to reality.

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