2023 Small Farm Tech Expo in Fresno. (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)

By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

In partnership, the Kearney Agriculture Research and Extension Center and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers hosted a Small Farm Tech Demo day in Fresno. Hundreds of growers and industry researchers in the Central Valley attended the event to view demonstrations of the latest agriculture technologies with a specialized focus on small-scale farms.

According to CAFF, a similar event targeted at creating accessible technology for farmers will take place annually. Elizabeth Vaughan, Farm to Market Tech Hub Specialist at CAFF, explained the first Small Farm Tech Expo was held in 2019 in Sonoma County.

“We’ve been really working hard to try to bring this event back for our small farm community…so we’re going to be hosting this event or a similar event to it every year,” Vaughan said. “We really want to make appropriate technology, accessible technology, affordable technology available to our small farm community.”

The tech expo included four stations targeting specific needs for small farmers, from irrigation to weeding.

IRRIGATION

Three irrigation technologies were presented — Dynamax, Irrometer, and Sprouts Lab. The first irrigation company, Dynamax, showcased an agri-sensor that offers hourly water use and daily water use totals for crops and trees. This, in turn, helps growers monitor soil moisture and how much water is available for their crops.

Dynamax offers solutions for water, wind, and solar monitoring. (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)

Another soil moisture sensor from Irrometer was commercialized back in 1951. This sensor measures the tension in the soil, allowing growers to understand how hard a specific plant is working to extract water and nutrients.

According to Jacob Moreno, factory representative at Irrometer Company, the sensor is meant to guide growers in reducing plant stress.

“The tensiometer works by putting liquid inside, putting the instrument in the ground, and as the soil dries out the liquid from inside the instrument, it is pulled through the ceramic tip and into the soil,” Moreno explained.

Irrometer’s tensiometers have been utilized for decades for measuring soil moisture. (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)

SproutLabs created the last irrigation technology presented at the event was marketed as an all-in-one sensor device that will last indefinitely. According to Babandeep Singh, lead hardware engineer, the device connects to any cellular network and continuously sends sensor data.

“Basically, if there’s any radiowaves out there, we’ll find a way to get the data out to the cloud,” Singh said. “There are no electrical wires. All you have to do is turn it on — there’s no base station — each device finds its own cellular network, connects to it, sends data, and goes back to sleep,” Singh said. “Just turn it on, drop it in the ground, and it should just work.”

SproutLabs is in early development, but pre-orders are available for the first production batch, configured with soil moisture, relative air humidity, temperature, and sunlight sensors.

The SproutLabs device is a one-time cost of $100 and includes access to software. (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)

SMALL ROBOTS AND WEEDERS

Various small robots and weeding technologies were demonstrated at the event at varying capacities and prices. Farm-ng, a well-established farm robotics company, showcased Amiga, which includes various attachments for tools, including finger weeders. The Amiga is fully modular and, after a charge, runs for 8 hours with two batteries.

Sutton Ag out of Salinas demonstrated a Sfoggia Florida Transplanter, a two-row unit wherein each unit does one plant line. The model is best for transplanting tall and difficult plants such as tobacco.

The Farm-ng robot is adjustable to several tasks ranging from soil prep, planting, and crop care to pest management and packaging. (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)
The Sfoggia Florida Transplanter retails for $15,000 and includes adjustable features and transplant timing. (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)

CAFF will continue to host small farm tech events in the future to address specific production challenges as well as to hear feedback on accessibility and affordability. These expos promise to be opportunities for small farmers to remain aware of the latest advancements as well as to provide them with tools to enhance efficiency, reduce crop stress, and compete in the evolving agricultural landscape.

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