2023 was a landmark year for The VINE, marked by considerable growth and impact in our mission to catalyze technology innovation and commercialization to create productive, sustainable, and equitable food systems. Over the course of the last 12 months, we’ve launched innovative programs, advanced existing projects, participated in nearly two dozen events, and pursued significant grant opportunities. These activities not only broadened The VINE’s outreach but also strengthened our impact in the agrifood tech sector. Let’s explore the key highlights that defined our year:
New Initiatives and Program Rollouts
This year, The VINE introduced several innovative programs and initiatives, each reflecting our commitment to driving progress and facilitating connections within the industry. They range from accelerator programs that connect startups with industry leaders and projects that focus on specific areas such as dairy, climate-smart agriculture and robotic solutions.
- VINE VIP Program: Launched in June 2023, the VINE VIP program has quickly become a cornerstone initiative, creating direct links between startups and agri-tech industry leaders. Focused on developing Proof of Concept (PoC) projects and preparing innovative concepts for the market, the program has shown remarkable success in its first year, attracting applications from 20 companies, of which half successfully partnered for validation or field trials.
- VINE Studio Program: This year also marked the launch of The VINE Studio, a program focused on converting scientific research into viable businesses. The program mentors businesses from their early stages, guiding them towards establishment and growth by harnessing the collective knowledge and experience of industry veterans and academic experts. During its first year, the program has been working closely with four startups, leveraging the expertise of industry professionals and the University of California to assist them through the critical stages of their development.
- Farm Robotics Challenge: 2023 also saw the successful debut of our Farm Robotics Challenge. A collaboration between the AI Institute for Next Gen Food Systems (AIFS), The VINE, Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation, and Farm-ng, this event brought together 150 students from 12 universities to complete to develop robotic solutions to address real agricultural challenges.
- Climate Smart Dairy Innovation Assessment: This year, we undertook a significant project with Dutch partners, focusing on climate-smart dairy farming. After a global scan, we identified 80 companies specializing in unique dairy technologies, including manure management, methane reduction in cows, labor challenges, and sustainability. Key projects were initiated in zero-emission farming and manure product utilization, including a tour in the Netherlands for Californian dairy innovators.
- F3 Local and F3 Innovate Projects: In 2023, The VINE played a pivotal role in the launch of the Farms, Food, Futures (F3) Initiative, particularly in the F3 Local and F3 Innovate segments. F3 Local concentrated on aiding small and BIPOC farmers in enhancing their operations through innovative technologies and business strategies. F3 Innovate was focused on developing agricultural technologies and cultivating a skilled workforce. These initiatives aim to stimulate economic growth, generate employment, and ensure the inclusion of small farmers in the region’s burgeoning tech sector.
- CEA Digital Courses: We launched CEA Digital Courses, an innovative online learning platform for those interested in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). Spearheaded by Professor Paul Gauthier from the University of Queensland, these courses provide essential knowledge and skills. The initial offerings, “Introduction to CEA” and “Plant Production in Indoor Farming,” were launched this spring, with plans to expand the curriculum to include post-harvest processes and data-driven growing techniques.
- VINE Institute Activation: 2023 also marked the inauguration of the VINE Institute, a consulting-focused nonprofit. We are currently undertaking feasibility studies for innovation centers in Fresno and Escondido, valued at over $200k.
Expanding Our Horizons
In 2023, The VINE took significant strides in extending its global reach and influence through a series of carefully curated international missions. These missions have been pivotal in broadening The VINE’s horizons, enhancing our role in the global agrifood tech landscape, and creating new pathways for collaboration and innovation. Each mission was a unique opportunity to engage with international partners, explore innovative practices, and bring valuable knowledge back to our local context.
- Climate Smart Agriculture Mission to Spain: Our mission to Spain, led by Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, emphasized collaboration with specialty crop farmers, academics, and policymakers. We engaged with various Spanish organizations to explore effective climate change solutions and innovative practices in water use, post-harvest handling, and more, setting the stage for future partnerships.
- Climate Smart Agricultural Policy Mission to Denmark and The Netherlands: This mission offered insights into the sustainable agricultural practices of Denmark and The Netherlands. The trip was a deep dive into their innovative approaches to farming, sustainability, and market opportunities, offering lessons on international collaboration in agriculture.
- Japan Food Innovation Tour 2023: Joining the Japan Food Innovation Tour with GlobalSF was a highlight, bringing together a diverse group of professionals in Kyoto and Tokyo. This tour was an exploration of Japanese culinary culture and food innovation, expanding our network and understanding of global food systems.
Additionally, The VINE hosted several significant delegations in California, including the Canadian AgTech Mission, Limagrain’s visit, the Danish Food and Agriculture Innovation Mission, Norinchukin Bank’s tour, and the Malaysia AgTech Mission. These events were crucial in showcasing California’s vast agricultural landscape and exploring collaborative opportunities with international leaders.
Showcasing Our Vision
Throughout 2023, The VINE actively participated in a series of important events, spanning two continents and three countries and various locales within the Central Valley. These events played a crucial role in increasing our visibility and advancing our mission.
The highlight of the year was undoubtedly FIRA USA, held in Salinas, California from September 19 to 21. Co-hosted with Western Growers and the French nonprofit GO FAR, the event was a resounding success, drawing over 1,700 attendees from 30 countries. FIRA USA brought together a diverse audience, including industry professionals, researchers, students, and local farmers, all with the shared objective of exploring the future of agriculture through robotics and automation. Key highlights included in-field agtech demonstrations, thought-provoking panels and discussions, and a special Tech and Education Day, which drew in 250 students and emerging innovators and provided them with a unique springboard into the world of agricultural robotics.
In addition to our key role at FIRA USA, The VINE also marked its presence at various other significant events:
- At World FIRA in France, in partnership with Western Growers, we explored the latest in autonomous agricultural solutions and expanded our global network with the aim of bringing practical solutions to California’s agrifood sector.
- Our participation in the World Ag Expo opened doors to connect with a spectrum of agricultural stakeholders outside of our traditional audience, offering us insights into industry challenges and helping shape our innovation strategies.
- Ag Day at the State Capitol provided a platform for The VINE fostered relationships with lawmakers and highlight how agricultural innovations will shape the future of California’s agriculture.
- At the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit, The VINE, a sponsor, spotlighted agtech’s role in addressing California’s agricultural challenges. We hosted discussions highlighting the importance of innovation in rural areas, and our presence showcased our commitment to driving agricultural innovation and collaboration.
- The Greentech Amsterdam visit was focused on establishing connections between our upcoming innovation center, The Plant, and Dutch leaders in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), a field where the Netherlands is a global frontrunner.
- Participation in the Salinas Biologicals Summit allowed us to engage in discussions about sustainable agriculture and the role of technology in advancing food systems, emphasizing our commitment to eco-friendly, advanced agrifood technologies.
- At the F3 Innovate Showcase at UC Merced, we had the opportunity to present the advancements and future potential of the F3 Innovate gear. The event emphasized our role in promoting inclusivity and sustainability in the advancement of the Central Valley.
- The 2023 Small Farm Tech Expo, a collaboration with CAFF and UC ANR, highlighted the intersection of technology with small-scale farming. It was a platform for sharing advancements in farm productivity and sustainability, promoting a community-centric vision for the future of small-scale farming.
- The F3 All Gears Meeting celebrated the first anniversary of the Farms, Food, Future Initiative, bringing together various stakeholders to reflect on past achievements and future directions. Our focus on supporting small BIPOC farmers and fostering student innovation was a highlight of this event.
Fueling Our Mission
2023 was a landmark year for The VINE in terms of grant pursuits and achievements. Our efforts were not only focused on securing funding but also on expanding our network and solidifying our role in the agrifood technology innovation sector.
- NSF Engines Initiative: The year began with a concerted effort towards the NSF Engines grant, a $160 million opportunity to create what we are calling the VINE Engine. This project, which had been in the works since 2022, involved organizing a series of meetings with various stakeholders across California. Despite not winning the grant, we achieved a competitive ranking and, more importantly, established valuable new connections and reinforced our position as a key statewide player in agricultural and food technology innovation. This endeavor has laid a solid foundation for future projects and partnerships.
- UC Climate Action Innovation & Entrepreneurship Grant: A significant win for The VINE was securing the $1 million UC Climate Action Innovation & Entrepreneurship grant. This funding, part of a historic $185 million collaboration between UC and the state of California, is directed towards our VINE Climate Smart Agrifood Innovation Program. The program is committed to advancing sustainable agriculture and food innovation, focusing on developing technologies and techniques to help California farmers adapt to climate change. The grant will facilitate the creation of the VINE Climate Solutions Seed Fund and expand support services for entrepreneurs working on climate solutions in the agrifood sector.
- Ongoing Grant Pursuits: Our grant-seeking endeavors continued throughout the year with several significant applications in progress:
- NSF Accelerating Research Translation: We are pursuing a $6 million grant, expected to be decided in May 2023.
- BioMade Pilot Plant: An application was submitted in 2023, with the grant amount to be confirmed.
- The Plant Design and Construction: We applied for funding to support this project, with the grant amount and decision date pending.
- Monarch EATS Program: A grant application was made in 2023, with the amount and decision date yet to be announced.
- Virtual Institute for the Future of Feedstocks: We are in the process of applying for this grant, with details to be finalized in 2023.
Crafting Our Story
2023 marked a significant evolution in The VINE’s communications approach, encompassing a complete messaging overhaul, website redesign, and enhanced marketing materials, alongside a robust press engagement strategy. Our communications were not just about disseminating information but about building a narrative that aligns with our strategic vision, engaging our audience effectively, and establishing The VINE as a thought leader in the agrifood sector.
- Messaging Overhaul: This year, we undertook a comprehensive rethinking of our messaging framework. Our goal was to ensure that each message was not only precise and targeted but also a true reflection of our collaborative vision and goals. This included a focus on core messages that align closely with our vision, persona-based messaging tailored to specific audience segments, project-based messaging for our diverse initiatives, partnership messaging to strengthen our collaborations, and FAQ messaging to address common inquiries clearly and effectively.
- Website Redesign: Our digital touchpoint underwent a significant redesign to offer an improved user experience, resonating more effectively with our audience and driving meaningful actions. The new design features an intuitive user experience, streamlined messaging for clearer communication, persona-driven content to engage different segments of our audience, a user-centric design that focuses on the visitor’s journey, and interactive elements to enhance engagement.
- Collateral, Swag, and Apparel: We revamped our marketing materials to better reflect our brand identity. This revamp included a professional trade booth to elevate our presence at events, redesigned brochures with updated content and visuals, engaging video ads and looping videos for promotions, VINE-branded apparel to boost brand visibility, and popular swag items that resonate well with our audience.
Looking Forward to 2024 and Beyond
As we turn the page to 2024, The VINE is ready to build upon the successes of the past year. Our goal is to deepen existing industry partnerships and forge new ones, expand our outreach on a global scale, and enhance our programmatic offerings. At the heart of our efforts is a steadfast commitment to innovation, aimed at addressing the immediate challenges of today while preparing for the future needs of the agrifood tech sector.
The importance of collaboration in achieving our goals cannot be overstated. We believe that by working together with a range of partners – from organizations and businesses to individuals – we can significantly extend the reach and effectiveness of our work in sustainable agriculture and food systems.
If you are interested in potential collaboration opportunities or would like to learn more about The VINE’s activities, we encourage you to contact us through our website. We are always open to exploring how we can work together to create a more productive, sustainable and equitable foodsystem.