Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, December 22, 2017, Page 10, Image 10

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December 22, 2017
Ag in ‘renaissance’ with
tech advances, Forbes says
Research helps Calif. almond
industry through growth spurt
For the Capital Press
riculture has always led the
world in developing technol-
ogy and is now in a “renais-
sance” driven by opportu-
nities in automation, media
magnate and former presiden-
tial candidate Steve Forbes
told an audience.
High technology’s bud-
ding romance with farming
is still “in its infancy” and
is sure to blossom in future
years with advances in irriga-
tion systems, data-analyzing
software and robotics, Forbes
said during a Dec. 6 speech at
the annual Almond Confer-
The advances will help
farms not only feed a grow-
ing world population, but
also continue to offer the
food choices demanded by
an expanding middle class,
he said.
“Agriculture has had a fan-
tastic history when it comes to
technology,” Forbes said, not-
ing the industry has driven in-
ventions ranging from tractors
and harvesters to genetically
modified foods. “But now it’s
experiencing a renaissance
like never before.”
Forbes, the editor-in-chief
of the Forbes media company
who ran unsuccessfully in the
1996 and 2000 Republican
presidential primaries, has
been using his media platform
to drive awareness and net-
working in the ag-tech sector.
For several years, he has
worked to match innovators
from the Silicon Valley with
those in the Salinas and Cen-
tral valleys, conference orga-
nizers noted. His company
organizes an annual Ag Tech
Summit in Salinas, bringing
together professionals from
the two backgrounds.
Some of the most import-
ant advances aren’t from new
inventions but are from new
applications of existing tools,
he said.
For example, the main-
frame computer was invented
after World War II, but de-
cades later Walmart founder
Sam Walton realized he could
use computers to “manage
inventory better than the big
guys in the supply chain,”
Forbes said.
Today robots are pick-
ing lettuce in Japan, and
scientists at the University
of California-Santa Cruz
discovered almost acciden-
tally that they could boost
solar power and production
in greenhouses by applying
a transparent red dye to the
outside, he said.
Many people still think of
agriculture as backward “even
though ag has been at the front
of technological advances for
1,000 years,” Forbes said.
“The image has got to catch
up to reality.”
Forbes noted the techno-
logical breakthroughs in Is-
While the country’s popu-
lation has grown tenfold since
it was founded in 1948, its
agricultural output is 16 times
what it was in the beginning
and its industrial output is 50
times larger, he said.
The reason is its govern-
ment has removed barriers
to innovation, he said. For
instance, desalination plants
in Israel take three or four
years to build, while the one
in Carlsbad, Calif., took about
15 years to plan and build and
For the Capital Press
Tim Hearden/For the Capital Press
Media magnate and former
presidential candidate Steve
Forbes makes remarks during
a luncheon at the Sacramen-
to Convention Center. The
gathering was part of the 2017
Almond Conference.
was more costly, he said.
“There is no real water
crisis,” Forbes said. “Water
shortage doesn’t come from
droughts but ... from stupid
Forbes encouraged confer-
ence-goers to remain engaged
with Congress on such issues
as tax policy, health care re-
form, immigration and espe-
cially trade.
The North American Free
Trade Agreement needs to
be updated, “but the worst
thing that could happen is
if they blow the thing up,”
he said.
Otherwise, other nations
will be eager to seize the
U.S. market share, as Brazil
did in the early 1970s when
then-President Richard Nixon
curbed soybean exports to re-
duce domestic prices, Forbes
Today the global market-
place is “an ecosystem,” he
“Your hand-held has parts
in it from all over the world,”
he said.
production costs increas-
ing and more trees coming
into production, the Almond
Board of California is look-
ing to get the most out of
each orchard.
The organization is us-
ing a portion of a temporary
1-cent assessment increase
to research new uses for
hulls, shells and woody bio-
mass as well as opening new
markets for the nut, industry
leaders said.
For instance, research-
ers are looking into feeding
hulls to insects and using
their larvae as chicken feed,
and using shells to firm up
the recycled plastics that are
used for such items as nurs-
ery flats, said board president
and chief executive officer
Richard Waycott.
“I think we have done
a great job as an industry
of taking our kernel to the
stratosphere,” Waycott told
nearly 4,000 attendees of the
annual Almond Conference
at the Sacramento Conven-
tion Center.
“With the rest of what
we do in the orchard, for
the co-products, there are
singular markets,” he said.
“There’s dairy for the hulls,
livestock bedding for the
shells and biomass for the
wood. One of the things
we’re really working on is
taking each one of those
co-products in a new direc-
The efforts come amid
a sense of urgency in the
industry as new plantings
continue to enter production.
The nearly 2.3 billion meat
Tim Hearden/For the Capital Press
Almond Board of California chairman Mike Mason, left, and
president Richard Waycott discuss a new $4.8 million research
initiative to achieve “the farm of the future” during a news
conference Dec. 4 in Sacramento. The event was held during the
annual Almond Conference.
pounds of almonds harvest-
ed this year is expected to
grow to as much as 3 billion
pounds within five years —
an increase of about 30 per-
cent, Waycott said.
Meanwhile, the cost of
inputs is rising. Board chair-
man Mike Mason, a Shafter,
Calif., producer, said his
costs have tripled in the last
20 years.
“If it only doubles in the
next 20 years, we’re still
talking about $7,000 an
acre,” Mason said, adding
that none of growers’ costs
are expected to go down.
“That’s why we need to pre-
pare ourselves with these
A nursery survey in late
2016 reported at least 14.5
million new almond trees
had been planted since June
So far, demand has been
keeping pace, as domestic
shipments and exports were
up 14 percent and 17 percent,
respectively, for the 2016-17
crop year, according to the
Almond Board.
The shipment increases
have helped prices stabilize
in recent months after a price
slide that began in late 2015,
with prices falling by nearly
half from the more than $4 a
pound that was paid for some
almonds during the 2014
crop year.
The USDA gave the Al-
mond Board permission in
December 2016 to raise its
handler assessments from 3
cents to 4 cents per pound
until mid-2019. The board
already had a budget of
about $50 million.
The board is also expand-
ing its overseas marketing,
returning to Japan after hav-
ing been absent from there in
recent years and beginning
new pushes in Italy, Mexico
and South America, Waycott
Club Clovernauts is a one-of-a-kind 4-H club in Clark County, Wash.
The club focus is listed as robotics, but it is really so much more. The
club began in 2010 with a dozen members ages 9 through 12. It has
grown to over 80 members ages 5 through 18. Kids join the club to
collaborate, design, build, test, redesign and compete within a
framework of cooperation and teamwork.
Club Clovernauts is divided into 5 groups. Two of the groups are non-
competitive. Jr. Builders is for members ages 5-9. Jr. Builders is
designed to introduce STEM concepts to kids while exciting them
through a brand they know and love — LEGO.
They build using Lego parts and motors, and
focus primarily on learning about simple
machines and structural integrity of their
creations. Basic Programming is for members
ages 8-12. They use the Lego Mindstorm set to
learn basic programming. After learning some of
the basics, the members get to design, build, and
program their small robots to complete a variety
of tasks by using sensors to interact with their environment.
Club Clovernauts has three competitive levels. FIRST Lego League
teams are for members ages 9-13 with some programming background.
They use the Lego Mindstorm kit to create and program a robot to
perform tasks on a tabletop competition field. FIRST Tech Challenge is
for members ages 13-18. These members design, build, program, and
operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance
format. These robots are made of metal and other materials, and they
are about the size of an 18” cube.
FIRST Robotics Challenge is for members in high school. These members
build a larger robot under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense
six-week time limit. These members build and program industrial-size
robots to play a difficult field game.
FIRST robotics teams compete around the region and earn
a chance to go to the world championships.
Club Clovernauts is based out of a rural church, which allows them to
meet in their spaces. But even with limited tools, space, and supplies,
the competitive teams have done very well. As you enter Manor
Church, there is a large display cabinet that contains trophies and
awards that the various teams have earned.
The latest addition to the case includes an item that the High School
team, FRC 3674 4-H CloverBots, brought back from the World
Competition this past April. Though their team did not win, they made
it as far as the semi-finals. It was also discovered that the 4-H Clover
Bots had the highest Rotor Engagement Score of qualification rounds
at the entire Houston competition, which hosted over 400 teams.
All of the groups are guided by adult coaches and mentors, as
members develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles.
The groups have demonstrated at many venues around the county
throughout the year. Club Clovernauts finish up each year by
participating for 10 days at the Clark County Fair. A few members
also attend the 4-H State Fair in Puyallup, Wash.