Western Growers (WG) and S2G Ventures are now accepting applications for the 2021 AgSharks Competition, a unique event where start-up companies pitch their innovations in front of a live audience of the world’s largest specialty crop producers to win a $250,000 minimum investment. Impact-driven entrepreneurs and startups developing systems and technologies that promote a more healthy and sustainable food and agriculture system can apply for the AgSharks Competition at 2021agsharks.splashthat.com. Applications close on Monday, October 11, 2021.
“Our AgSharks Competition is an exciting and impactful event that has already yielded bottom-line benefits for our members,” said Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia. “While there is much more we are doing to speed innovative technologies to our industry, AgSharks creates a special opportunity for agtech entrepreneurs to win the hearts and minds of growers on a very high profile stage. We’re looking forward to this year’s competition.”
Five startups will be selected to pitch their inventions to a panel of growers, shippers, processors and venture capitalists in front of more than 300 fresh produce farmers and industry leaders during the WG Annual Meeting in San Diego, California, on November 9, 2021. In addition to investment capital, the winner(s) will receive international recognition, mentoring from S2G and WG, potential access to farm acreage to pilot their technologies and access to WG’s expansive network of leading fresh produce companies.
“AgSharks leads as the only pitch competition that offers agtech startups an audience with the biggest agricultural companies across the globe,” said Audre Kapacinskas, Vice President at S2G Ventures. “The combination of exclusive access to hundreds of industry leaders plus investment capital to fuel growth are two elements that are crucial for a startup’s success in this industry.”
AgSharks was first held in 2017, and through the competition, three early-stage companies have earned seed money to elevate their businesses to the next level. In fact, past winners Hazel Technologies and Burro, formerly known as Augean Robotics, have since brought their products from development to market. Hazel Technologies recently closed a Series C financing round and is now advancing the industry with sachets that extend the shelf life of fresh produce by as much as three times. Burro is helping solve farmers’ labor woes with the expansion of its fleet of autonomous robots to farms across the west.
Unless you have a personal connection to the Central Valley or work in agriculture, chances are you haven’t been able to speak directly to a farmer about how they’re experiencing this year’s historic drought.
Recently on KQED Forum, three farmers from the Central Valley, where roughly 40% of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts are grown, shared just how little water they have to work with, how they’re adapting, and what the drought means for their industry long term.
Here are some highlights from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
How little water are farmers working with?
Joe Del Bosque, CEO of Del Bosque Farms: This year, we got zero water from the Bureau of Reclamation. So we’ve had to look toward other irrigation districts that have higher water rights, and purchase water from them. If it hadn’t been for our ability to buy from other farmers, we would not be able to farm today.
Don Cameron, Terranova Ranch, California State Board of Food and Agriculture president: We rely primarily on groundwater pumped in our region. About 5%, in a normal year, [is] surface water. So we have depended on the groundwater for years. And we are in a critically overdrafting basin, which means we are now dealing with sustainable groundwater management; we need to stop the decline in groundwater.
Stuart Woolf, Woolf Farming & Processing: Our surface water was taken to zero. We have maintained some wells in the area. Traditionally in dry years, we’d lean into our wells, and years ago when we had adequate surface supplies, we would then recharge our aquifers. But we’re seeing the loss of our surface supplies now, and that is basically exacerbating the issues with groundwater out here.
How much more does water cost right now?
Stuart Woolf: In a normal year in Westlands [Water District], for our surface water, we end up paying about $250 an acre-foot. And in a year like this, if you can find it and actually buy it, we’re thinking in terms of like $2,000 to $2,500 per acre-foot, on an incremental cost basis. You can have surface water that you receive that costs $400, $500, the incremental cost being much, much higher. Pumping costs are closer to that $250.
Less water means fewer crops, smaller yields
Joe Del Bosque: We’ve cut back our melon program. We’ve grown asparagus for 20 years and we took that out. We removed the asparagus to try to save our melon program because that’s where our largest focus is. So we sacrificed that crop. And we may also have to sacrifice the sweet corn crop next year.
Don Cameron: It’s been more of an issue with climate. We have the heat. We had 114-degree heat in early June, which caused our tomato plants to abort the flowers and essentially come up with a yield lower than we’ve seen in the 40 years I’ve been farming.
Stuart Woolf: We’ve had to make some difficult decisions, like pulling out almond trees prematurely. Normally they would last 20, 25 years, and we pulled some out recently that were about 15 years old simply because we were looking at the incremental cost of trying to get water to them if we could get it. We just came to the conclusion that when you kind of worked out all the economics and looked at the orchard itself, we’d be better off pulling the trees out early and using water we had on our tomato crop.
Market share matters
Joe Del Bosque: We have some market share with our melons. It’s something that we need to protect. If we do not plant our melons, we lose our market share. And not only that, we lose our very skilled workforce that has been with us for decades. We have people who work in our harvest that have been with us for many years and have done this job very well. Just because we have annual crops doesn’t mean that they’re that easy to fallow. And so that concerns me. If we are not able to plant melons next year, we’re basically out of that program.
Effects on workers
Joe Del Bosque That asparagus [we pulled up], it sustained 70 people for about two months in the early spring, when there aren’t a lot of jobs in this area. So those jobs are going to be gone. Those folks will probably have to migrate somewhere else to look for work.
Don Cameron: We’ve seen some land retirement near us in the past, and the local communities suffer. You see half of some of these small towns boarded up. You don’t see the the economy increasing. It’s really difficult for the communities. It’s hard for our workers. But, you know, it actually stretches even beyond our local reach here. So many of the crops are exported through the Port of Oakland or Long Beach. So the effect is really far-reaching within California.
Don Cameron: Right now there are more farms for sale than I’ve seen in the time I’ve been farming. People understand that there are changes, and for a lot of reasons they’re getting out of farming or they’re trying to get out of farming. It’s more difficult to sell a piece of farmland without an adequate water supply that we’re faced with during a drought. .
How farmers are adapting
Don Cameron: We have been very proactive and have developed a groundwater recharge system and put in canals and infrastructure, to bring floodwater onto the farm to actually recharge our groundwater, so that we can be more sustainable in the future and have a much better supply of groundwater.
Stuart Woolf: I think my charge right now is to try to figure out how to optimize the lands that I’m likely going to be fallowing. And so we are looking at industrial solar as kind of a new crop. We are leasing ground, putting solar projects out there. We have one breaking ground in November; it will be about 1,300 acres. So we’re covering up some very productive and diverse farmland with a lease, but we’re generating some rental income, and we’ll take what water allocations we have on those lands and use them on the properties that we are irrigating.
We’re looking at some alternative crops. I’m experimenting. I happen to be a tequila drinker, so I’m planting some agave. We’ve partnered with some other neighbors and taken part of our property to set it aside as a water bank, so when those flood flows do show up and we have access to water, we’ll be sinking it in the ground. And honestly, we’ve looked at other parts of the state where there’s better groundwater or better rights, and we’ve actually developed and invested in some properties in those other areas to try to mitigate the pressure that we have here in western Fresno County.
Stuart Woolf: I think long term, what’s going to happen, we will gravitate to more crops that are just specialty crops that are unique to California that will likely go up in value. And we’ll be growing fewer acres of lower-value crops or water-intensive crops like alfalfa or cotton or grains and what have you. I think our cropping patterns will change over time.
Don Cameron: The state left this at the local level and you’ve got growers and water districts involved, and we will get to sustainability. We have to. I have realized now for many, many years that we have to do something about declining groundwater, and so we took it upon ourselves to get involved early on and put a large project together, that when it’s complete, will actually serve 30,000 acres.
Changes farmers would like to see
Joe Del Bosque: In the short run, [water] transfers would help get us out of this predicament we’re in now. It takes months to get a transfer approved. And even when you have them approved, sometimes they’re still held up.
We should facilitate storm flows to go to places where we can recharge groundwater.
In the long run, we have to have more storage. Today, we’re getting more rain, it seems, and that’s not stored up in the mountains. That needs to come down and be stored here. I think that there are some projects that could be done fairly easily, something as simple as raising San Luis Reservoir 15 feet. I think we have to look at all of these things, because in the future, our storage may not be adequate for the state.
Don Cameron: We know that we have to capture floodwater when it is available. It comes quick. It comes fast. Now we need to be ready. Let’s face it, during the drought is when we need to be building the infrastructure for floodwater capture.
Effects on consumers
Don Cameron: We’re already seeing price increases of 15% to 25% for the fall planted crops. We know that if we get to the end of December and there really isn’t much of a snowpack, a grower is not going to put seeds in a greenhouse to plant tomatoes, let’s say, for next year’s crop. This coming winter is going to be absolutely critical, but you’re definitely going to see higher food prices for things that are grown within California, and if we don’t see adequate snowpack, this will continue into 2023, with limited products possible on your food shelf. We’re growing food here for people, and I think it is sometimes forgotten that if we don’t have the water to produce a crop, someone is going to be short.
In 2020 California’s farms and ranches received $49.1 billion in cash receipts for their output. This represents a 3.3 percent decrease in cash receipts compared to the previous year.
California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. California’s top-10 valued commodities for the 2020 crop year are:
Dairy Products, Milk — $7.47 billion
Almonds — $5.62 billion
Grapes — $4.48 billion
Pistachios — $2.87 billion
Cattle and Calves — $2.74 billion
Lettuce — $2.28 billion
Strawberries — $1.99 billion
Tomatoes — $1.20 billion
Floriculture — $967 million
Walnuts — $958 million
A comprehensive report for the 2020 crop year is schedule to be released in late 2021. Statistics are compiled by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it will soon publish Requests for Applications (RFAs) for new grant programs – the Pandemic Response and Safety (PRS) Grant program and the Seafood Processors Pandemic Response and Safety Block Grant program – to support agricultural stakeholders who haven’t yet received substantial federal financial assistance in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. These grant programs will provide assistance to small businesses in certain commodity areas, including small scale specialty crop producers and processors, shellfish, aquaculture and other select producers, meat and other processors, distributors, farmers markets, seafood facilities and processing vessels. Today, USDA released grant forecasts for these new programs to help potential applicants determine their eligibility and to prepare to apply for funding. Approximately $650 million in funding is available for the PRS grants and $50 million is available for SPRS. All of these new programs are funded by the Pandemic Assistance provided in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
For the PRS grants, eligible entities are detailed in the Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program forecast, USDA-AMS-TM-PRS-G-21-0011. Eligible entities should visit the PRS grant portal at usda-prs.grantsolutions.gov for complete information on the program, including how to obtain a free of charge DUNS Number from Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) BEFORE applying for this program. On September 23, USDA will issue another announcement indicating that entities may submit their applications through the grant portal; entities will need their DUNS number to submit an application.
For the Seafood PRS grants, USDA will allocate block grant funding to U.S. states and territories based on a formula that considers economic activity as demonstrated through commercial fisheries landings. Eligible entities are state agencies as detailed in the Seafood Processors Pandemic Response and Safety Block Grant Program forecast, USDA-AMS-TM-SPRS-G-21-0012. The state agency will then provide funds to seafood processing facilities and processing vessels. Seafood processors and processing vessels should apply directly through their State agency; seafood processors and processing vessels should not apply through PRS and should instead contact their state agency for financial assistance once USDA awards funds to states. A listing of state contacts will be made available on the USDA website. Tribal government owned eligible entities may apply directly to USDA, details of which will be developed through tribal consultation in conjunction with Office of Tribal Relations.
Updated information regarding the PRS and Seafood PRS programs will be available on the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) website: www.ams.usda.gov.
In response to the severe drought conditions in the West and Great Plains, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced plans to help cover the cost of transporting feed for livestock that rely on grazing. USDA is updating the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP) to immediately cover feed transportation costs for drought impacted ranchers. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will provide more details and tools to help ranchers get ready to apply at their local USDA Service Center later this month at fsa.usda.gov/elap.
ELAP provides financial assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees, and farm-raised fish for losses due to disease, certain adverse weather events or loss conditions as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture.
ELAP already covers the cost of hauling water during drought, and this change will expand the program beginning in 2021 to cover feed transportation costs where grazing and hay resources have been depleted. This includes places where:
USDA has determined a shortage of local or regional feed availability.
Cost share assistance will also be made available to cover eligible cost of treating hay or feed to prevent the spread of invasive pests like fire ants.
Under the revised policy for feed transportation cost assistance, eligible ranchers will be reimbursed 60% of feed transportation costs above what would have been incurred in a normal year. Producers qualifying as underserved (socially disadvantaged, limited resource, beginning or military veteran) will be reimbursed for 90% of the feed transportation cost above what would have been incurred in a normal year.
A national cost formula, as established by USDA, will be used to determine reimbursement costs, but will not include the first 25 miles and distances exceeding 1,000 transportation miles. The calculation will also exclude normal costs to transport hay or feed. For 2021, the initial cost formula of $6.60 per mile will be used (before the percentage is applied), but may be adjusted on a state or regional basis.
To be eligible for ELAP assistance, livestock must be intended for grazing and producers must have incurred feed transportation costs on or after Jan. 1, 2021. Although producers will self-certify losses and expenses to FSA, producers are encouraged to maintain good records and retain receipts and related documentation in the event these documents are requested for review by the local FSA County Committee. The deadline to file an application for payment for the 2021 program year is Jan. 31, 2022.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that $700 million in competitive grant funding will be available through the new Farm and Food Workers Relief (FFWR) grant program to help farmworkers and meatpacking workers with pandemic-related health and safety costs.
The program will provide relief to farmworkers, meatpacking workers, and front-line grocery workers for expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This relief is intended to defray costs for reasonable and necessary personal, family, or living expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as costs for personal protective equipment (PPE), dependent care, and expenses associated with quarantines and testing related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funds will be awarded through grants to state agencies, tribal entities, and non-profit organizations serving farmworkers and meatpacking workers. The USDA is setting aside $20 million for at least one pilot to provide targeted support to front-line grocery workers. Eligible entities must demonstrate the capacity to reimburse farmworkers and meatpacking workers for up to $600 for expenses incurred due to the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
The grant program requires applicants to show connectedness to hard-to-reach worker populations either directly or in partnerships with other local organizations. Applicants should be able to describe how they will partner with smaller organizations to facilitate financial relief to such populations.
The Request for Application (RFA) will be announced in early Fall and will be open for 60 days. Additional information, including technical assistance for applying for these grants, will be provided by USDA when the application period opens.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Center for Analytical Chemistry (CAC) is assembling a CoResponse team to handle urgent analytical testing requests that may arise due to emergencies, including wildfires.
CoResponse’s first task is setting up instruments and validating the smoke-taint method in preparation for the possibility that assistance is requested by the wine grape industry and commercial labs to test grapes for the presence of smoke from wildfires, as was requested of the CAC last year. In 2020, the CAC analyzed 148 wine grape samples for the presence of seven smoke-taint compounds between October 1 and December 1.
The CAC’s CoResponse team is composed of scientists with diverse backgrounds and expertise representing all CAC programs. They will work on multiple instrument platforms to be able to respond to any analytical emergencies that might arise.
The USDA is hosting an online workshop on September 13 for prospective applicants for cooperative agreements to support historically underserved farmers and ranchers with climate-smart agriculture and forestry.
The Racial Justice and Equity Conservation Cooperative Agreements are available to entities and individuals for two-year projects that expand the delivery of conservation assistance to farmers who are beginning, have limited resources, are socially disadvantaged, or are veterans.
Eligible projects include:
Improvement of soil health;
Improvement of water quality;
Providing habitat for local wildlife species of concern;
Improvement of the environmental and economic performance of working agricultural land; and
Building and strengthening local food projects that provide healthy food and economic opportunities.
Projects should remove barriers to access and reach historically underserved groups through a combination of program outreach and technical assistance in managing natural resources that address one or more of the following four Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) priority areas:
Addressing local natural resource issues;
Using climate-smart agriculture practices and principles;
Encouraging existing and new partnerships; and
Developing state and community-led conservation leadership for historically underserved agricultural producers, including educating and training students for careers in natural resources management.
Who Is Eligible
Entities and individuals who provide outreach assistance to historically underserved groups are eligible, including:
Native American tribal governments and organizations
Private and public institutions of higher education
How to Apply
Applications must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on October 25, 2021. See the grants.gov announcement for details and application instructions.
The workshop for prospective applicants will be held on September 13, 2021 from 11 am to 1 pm (PST). Interested parties are asked to join the workshop via Microsoft Teams.
Questions may be addressed to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org