SALINAS — There’s nothing like holding one of the largest agriculture conferences in the region over Zoom to make it a truly international gathering.
Over March 18-19, Western Growers and Hartnell College’s Eighth Annual Salinas Ag Tech Summit will cover policies, best practices and developing technologies that are coming online during one of the most critical times in agriculture history.
The world’s population continues to grow unabated while at the same time the planet’s farmable land remains finite. By 2050 there is expected to be an additional 2 billion people on earth, a total of 9 billion people, according to Jonathan Foley, the executive director of the California Academy of Science.
By mid-century, the world will need to double its agricultural production without causing massive and irreversible damage to the environment. One of the ways to address the looming crisis is through agricultural technology — increasing yields and pulling together innovative practices that can boost production on existing farmland.
Most of the environmental damage is caused by animal production — loss of key forests and jungles to agricultural clearing, and the creation of animal-produced methane gas, which is one of major contributors to human-made climate change.
But crop production is also a concern. Pesticides and over-reliance on fertilizers is affecting various environments. Locally, farmers and scientists are trying to figure out what to do with all the excess nitrogen from fertilizers that are making their way into waterways. Places like the Elkhorn Slough are battling algae blooms created from increased nitrogen making its way downstream.
In Monterey County, the battle over water is a clear example of the quandary: How to increase production with existing resources. Summit panelist Elisa Blanco will provide a global perspective on water as co-founder of the Center for Water Law and Management in Chile. These are global problems that need global answers and in many ways California is leading the charge.
Because this year’s summit will be presented in a virtual format via Zoom, attendees can also participate from anywhere in the world — with no charge for registration. Go to salinasvalleyagtechsummit.com to sign up.
One panel, focused on education and ag technology, will include Dr. Peter Livingston, head of the BioResource and Agricultural Engineering Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Chris Kitts, director of the Robotic Systems Laboratory and associate dean of research and faculty development for the School of Engineering at Santa Clara University. The moderator will be Clint Cowden, Hartnell’s dean of Career Technical Education and Workforce Development.
Labor has been an increasing challenge for growers in the Salinas Valley for a number of reasons. Government crackdowns on immigration and more migrant workers seeking higher-paying jobs in the building trades have contributed to labor shortages. In the Salinas Valley, crops like strawberries have had to be tilled under for lack of enough field workers to harvest them.
One of the early investors in harvesting and planting automation is Salinas-based grower Tanimura and Antle. The family bought the technology of a Spanish company and molded it into a new company called PlantTape that is now selling to other growers.
The technology allows a tractor to pull a planting mechanism that can transplant leafy greens in a fraction of time it could take a field of farmworkers to transplant the sprouts.
A panel focusing on education will include several Salinas Valley growers such as Tom Nunes, a fourth-generation farmer and president of the Nunes Co.; John D’Arrigo, president, chief executive and chairman of D’Arrigo Bros.; and Miles Reiter, chief executive and chairman of Driscoll’s.