Agri-Musings: Ag Tech

Most of the Ag Tech  investment discussed in this article is occurring in the MidWest where there is tremendous acreage and opportunity. After that, comes the Pacific Northwest and the San Joaquin Valley.
Unfortunately, the Salinas Valley, with its paltry 400,000 irrigated acres of 250 different crops and its complicated farming systems, has not been that attractive to investors.

Windshield Views: August 24, 2013

I went wandering around south Monterey County yesterday.

  • Garlic and bean harvests were in progress.
  • Red bell peppers are starting to glisten in the sun.
  • Fennel is being picked in a patchwork of vivid jade and faded celadon.
  • Brix (i.e. sugars) are increasing and wine grapes are hanging heavy on the vine.

The veggie fields resembled sharp shards of vitreous green stuck in the dry crust of the southern Gabilan hills.

Small, impoverished communities give testimony to the tattered remnants of victorian dreams of prosperity and hope.

Windshield Views: July 18, 2013

This was a tough year for the tomato growers in the San Joaquin Valley. Earlier, the growers struggled with Tomato Curly Top, a virus infestation that impacted yields.

Now, despite production challenges, load after load of ‘maters are brilliant bursts of color along this arid strip of highway. The tomato trucks race north on I-5 towards the Morning Star, DelMonte, and Boswell processing plants. Those  bright, juicy, orbs of abundance will ultimately sit in my pantry as jars of salsa, cans of paste, and  bottles of catsup!

Windshield Views: July 18, 2013

Garlic! Growers have turned off the water. The stems are drying, nodding and folding over. They rattle in the hot summer thermals.

This time of the year, the roads are littered with bits of paper-thin skins that have skittered out of transport truck cages. The translucent scraps swoop and swirl as they are lifted by traffic.

As you drive down 99, somewhere between Manteca and Madera, you will smell a garlic processing plant in full swing. And if it is just before lunch, you will long for a plate of spaghetti or a strong salsa or some chimmichuri sauce as your stomach begins to growl.

Windshield Views: July 18, 2013

The crucible of change isn’t always easy to witness.

My trip through the Tulare Lake bottoms revealed shuttered dairies.

Westside crops were obviously suffering from drought-deficit-irrgation. Proud corn that should have been broad-leafed, glossy-green, and 12-foot tall, was spindly and dull. Cotton that should have been straining to the sky and as high as my shoulder was shorter than my waist and going into “Cut-out,” which is when environmental conditions tell the cotton plant to produce its last boll. The last creamy flowers were beacons through the uppermost leaves.

We need our policy makers to resolve the water supply crisis. But, I doubt that will happen in my lifetime. A few years ago, I was told that California Central Planners wanted to eliminate a certain percentage of growers in order to have water to support urban growth projections. I didn’t believe that statement then. However, as I the drive through the fringes and see where the dismantling of Ag begins, I think I believe it now.


Windshield Views: July 21, 2013

I forgot to mention the great dust devils that I saw on my trip through the San Joaquin Valley last week. The Big Valley doesn’t have tornadoes, but instead it has these bits of weather whimsy that dot the late summer landscape. They amuse and entertain as we fight the traffic on Hwy 99 or battle boredom on I-5. They zig and zag, shrink and swell, curl and whirl and wend their way through orchards, vineyards, and open fields. They are the color of California soil: nondescript beige and boring until it dances before our eyes.

Windshield Views: May 8, 2014

From Paso Robles, I drive through austere, western landscapes as I make a circuitous route over two lane highways and small hilly passes through the Kettleman Hills.  I pass through lovely, high, inland valleys tucked in the rain shadows and protected from coastal storms. More years than not, there is insufficient rain and earth is seared by sun and wind and has a flinty quality about it. The bones of the land are visible beneath scant ground cover and strata tell the story of eons of climate change. 

Finally, I drop down into the Big Valley and leave behind my paleo-history. The San Joaquin lives in the present. Confronts the “now”. 

Windshield Views: June 4, 2014

I was headed north on Hwy 101 on Friday and the cattle trucks were headed south to the Templeton livestock market.*  It was so sad to see empty landscapes and full cattle trucks as cattlemen transferred their cattle from barren range.