Can Ag-Tech Developers Help California Combat Drought?

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act signed into law last year requires that during the next five to 10 years California measure and then manage groundwater and surface water.

by Bob Gore / June 23, 2015

Disruption.

It’s a cool buzzword, now enshrined in management textbooks and thus of declining utility, even when applied to our favorite subject: agricultural technology.

The business of growing food, according to Inc. magazine, is (and this is a great pun) “ripe for disruption.” Ag is ranked as one of three such sectors, along with commercial real estate and higher education. Here are a few cogent comments from Inc.:

  1. Ag has an … ummm … business model that is several thousand years old. I guess we’re overdue for disruption then.
  2. Venture capital in 2014 put more money in ag tech than in financial services. That was a surprise! So the investments should bear fruit (another great pun) this year.
  3. Ag tech developers, which would be you, are not a factor. The big guys like Monsanto are controlling disruption – the evolution of ag tech.

So then, what are you going to do about it? Buy Monsanto stock or prove Inc. wrong? The magazine writer does allow as how there are a couple (just a couple) of interesting startups in this field.

Here’s the article: http://bit.ly/1PKs4nh

But wait! There’s more! Here’s a collaborative partnership just waiting for you — drought-driven and essential for regulatory compliance. Talk about a market-maker: The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act signed into law last year requires that during the next five to 10 years California measure and then manage groundwater and surface water.

Where to begin? Outer space. NASA and its friends at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena are working with more friends at UC Irvine and the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) to connect water supply and demand measurement from satellites to seeds. You can help. You can design hardware, software and apps to deploy all this big data and help growers and bureaucrats make decisions.

NASA is favorably disposed to coming back down to earth and getting dirty with you. Consider that earlier this year in Virginia, NASA finished two pilot projects with state agencies and wine grape growers. Called – in typical nondisruptive government lingo – “Coastal Mid-Atlantic Water Resources III,” the project used two NASA satellites linked to drones to provide groundwater observations within the state’s coastal aquifer region and also looked at the water usage of crops at the surface level.

I’ve run into the NASA satellite jockeys at several Water World events, and they could use your help. Understaffed (often represented by graduate students) and not completely grasping the immense scale and production of California ag, they need friends.

And talk about getting in on the ground floor: DWR in the next few weeks will release an RFP for technical services to support a big data organizing drive. You’d be there at the beginning.

This column was originally published by TechWire

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