The VINE co-hosted its second annual FIRA USA event in the agricultural heartland of Salinas, California, from September 19 to 21. Known as the “Salad Bowl of the World,” Salinas was the perfect setting for an event that aimed to blend tradition with technological innovation. The event brought together over 1,700 attendees from 30 different countries, ranging from industry professionals and researchers to students and local farmers, all united by a common goal: to explore the future of agriculture through the lens of robotics and automation.
In-field demonstrations have always been a signature of FIRA USA, and this year did not disappoint. These demonstrations were more than just technological showcases; they offered practical, real-world solutions to agricultural challenges. The demo zone was segmented into specific agricultural applications, from medium-density vegetable crops featuring weeding robots like Mantis Ag Technology’s Smart Cultivator and WeedSpider, to high-density crops that showcased Carbon Robotics’ LaserWeeder and Verdant Robotics’ Verdant B1 & F1. The multi-use robot segment introduced versatile solutions like PlantTape and farm-ng’s Amiga.
In the vineyard sector, robots like Agtonomy’s TeleFarmer Solutions, along with Ted and Jo by Naïo Technologies, took center stage, each offering specialized features for vineyard maintenance and harvesting. The orchard segment was equally compelling, featuring robots like GUSS by GUSS Automation, Bluewhite’s Pathfinder, and Monarch Tractor’s MK-V, each designed to address unique challenges in orchard management and operations.
Engaging Discussions: A Meeting of Minds
The event was not just about showcasing technology; it was also a platform for insightful discussions among researchers and industry professionals. The conference kicked off with a keynote by Gabriel Youtsey, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources and founder of The VINE, laying the groundwork for discussions that spanned three key themes. The first, technology and industry applications, featured panels that delved into the practical aspects of tech deployment in sectors like the California Strawberry Industry and emphasized the importance of robust digital infrastructure.
The conference also zeroed in on regulatory and financial considerations, offering a nuanced look at the alignment of automation with current safety standards and regulations. Sessions explored the financial implications of agtech, from making cost-effective decisions to understanding the ROI of AI in agriculture. One standout session, “Data Rush, the New Gold Rush?”, highlighted the growing value of data as a critical asset in modern agriculture.
Education and workforce development was the third focal point, addressing the skills and training needed for the future agtech workforce. A dedicated panel discussed the competencies required to manage and operate advanced systems, emphasizing that technological progress must be paralleled by workforce development. Overall, FIRA USA offered a well-rounded and comprehensive look into the multiple dimensions of agricultural technology.
Tech and Education Day: Shaping the Future of Ag Robotics
The event also featured a Tech and Education Day, attracting 250 students and aspiring innovators from high schools across the Salinas area and beyond. The day kicked off with a panel discussion featuring young professionals Berenice Mejia, Lawrence Hsiung, Tyler Armbister, Ella Rasmussen, and Chris Kent. Moderated by Carrie Peterson, the panelists discussed their educational and career paths into ag robotics, offering a well-rounded and informative perspective that resonated with the students. These professionals come from diverse backgrounds and work in various departments at their respective companies, adding layers of depth to the conversation.
The panel was just the starting point; it served as a springboard for students to delve deeper into the subject matter. Post-panel, the students had the opportunity to engage with 50+ booths in the expo zone. They got up close and personal with cutting-edge equipment and had the chance to meet the winners of the Farm Robotics Challenge. The enthusiasm was palpable, and the energy was infectious, making Tech and Education Day a highlight of the conference.
Quotes from Key Particiants
Gwendoline Legrand and Maïalen Cazenave, co-founders of GO FAR
“Having doubled the number of people attending FIRA USA is a real proof of the interest of the industry. We are particularly proud of attracting the full industry – farmers, dealers, manufacturers, but also academics, legislators and suppliers. The incredible connections that are made at FIRA confirm that the show is a must-attend one, especially taking into account that deals are made on site with dozens of robots sold!”
Walt Duflock, VP of Innovation at Western Growers
“We wanted to bring the specialty crop AgTech world together for 3 days in the dirt watching robots because that is the best way to get conversations with growers and startups moving forward. We did that at FIRA USA 2023 in Salinas and the feedback from both groups has been great. We look forward to doing it again in Sacramento/Davis in 2024!”
Gabe Youtsey, Chief Innovation Officer at UCANR and Founder of the VINE
“The VINE is committed to fostering innovation in agriculture, and FIRA USA serves as a critical platform for that. The event not only showcases technological advancements but also facilitates meaningful dialogue among all stakeholders. We’re thrilled to be a part of this transformative journey.”
A Heartfelt Thank You
We extend our deepest appreciation to the community for coming together to make this event a success. Our speakers and panelists deserve special mention for their invaluable insights and expertise. Notable contributors include California State Senator John Laird, Secretary Karen Ross, Glenda Humiston, Gary Thompson, Sean Sundberg, Jennifer Edney, PHR, SHRM-CP, Gaëtan Severac, Danny Royer, Jeff Morrison, Arthur Chow, Connie Bowen, Seana Day, Martin Ullmann, Ron Osborne, Jorge Heraud, Trevor Sieck, Brent Shedd, Tim Bucher, Taylor Wetli, Josh Metz, Paul Mikesell, Peter Mardaleichvili, José M. Marchetti, and René Koerhuis.
Our gratitude also extends to the companies who engaged the audience through live demonstrations. These include Bluewhite, Burro, Agtonomy, Monarch Tractor, Mantis Ag Technology, SeedSpider, K.U.L.T. Kress Umweltschonende Landtechnik GmbH, Stout, Naïo Technologies, Ecorobotix, Carbon Robotics, Verdant Robotics, PlantTape Inc., and farm-ng.
We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all participating schools and groups, including North Salinas High School, Salinas High School, Woodland High School, Gonzales High School, Everett Alvarez High School, Fillmore High School, King City High School, Seaside High School, Rancho San Juan High School, Soledad High School, Alisal High School, Mark Richardson CTE Center, and York School.
A special note of thanks is also due to exhibitors such as Agtonomy, Burro, GUSS, Edete, Farmwise, farm-ng, SwarmFarm, Verdant, Bluewhite, ecorobotix, K.U.L.T., DART, Ag-Bee, AGAID (WSU), F3, and Naio, who prepared special presentations for our young guests.
We would also like to acknowledge the vital role played by our co-organizers, GO FAR and Western Growers, as well as our pavilion partners: UCANR, F3 Innovate, AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, and AgAID Institute. Your collaboration was essential in making this event a reality. Lastly, our warmest thanks go out to all the attendees; we look forward to welcoming you back for FIRA USA 2024!
The Future is Now
FIRA USA 2023 wasn’t just an event; it was a milestone in the journey towards a more sustainable and efficient agricultural industry. We can’t wait to see what the future holds and look forward to welcoming you back next year.