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Q&A with Dennis Donohue: Crop Collaborative Initiative

Posted on February 26, 2019 11:05 AM by elyons

We recently sat down with Dennis Donohue, the director of Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, to learn more about the Crop Collaborative Initiative. 


What is Crop Collaborative Initiative?

The Crop Collaborative Initiative is a Western Growers/Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, jointly, industry-led initiative designed to accelerate field automation progress with a primary focus on field harvesting.


Who is the Crop Collaborative for? 

Like all activities of the Center and Western Growers, the Crop Collaborative designed to support the interests of WG members and be multi-disciplinary in nature.  The focus will be to bring together the variety of stakeholders most closely aligned with the key, high volume specialty crops in the fresh fruit, vegetable and nut categories.

All aspects of agribusiness and the communities our members operate in stand to benefit from the success of this venture. The goal will be to attract key growers, commissions, equipment, agronomic, tech, data, academic, robotic and financial players to organize around a roadmap that will lead to ensuring the industry has the necessary technical, production and operational capacity to accelerate the shift to the next generation of harvesting equipment and personnel.


What is the role of WG members?

We need them to support the Center, be part of the Grower Trial network and encourage the other commissions they are affiliated with to financially support the network. Western Growers is uniquely positioned to represent the entire gamut of specialty crops and draw in more technology and capital to mount a collective effort to accelerate automation.

The Crop Collaborative is “underway.” We are reaching out to growers, commissions and international partners (starting with the Dutch, U.K. New Zealand and Israel) to convene the group and assess what technology is currently available in the ag automation world and robotics category in general. We anticipate the organizational and assessment phase will go on through the summer.

In fact, on February 12, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FME to, together, solve ag food tech challenges by connecting members, advancing collaboration and boosting technical development and application, both in the United States and the Netherlands. The collaboration will commence with the creation of an International Robotics Academy, where business and entrepreneurial interests from across the world will unite to accelerate automated harvesting in the field and facility for fresh produce operations.


Why are growers participating?  How should startups get involved?

Growers are participating because the availability of labor is diminishing and costs continue to rise. Both are long-term trends. Startups that focus on automation should join the Center… because this is where the action will be!


How will the industry benefit?

Every ag-affiliated business and community has a stake in this issue. In order for WG members to remain competitive and continue operating (particularly in California), for generations to come, this issue has to be solved for the benefit of all stakeholders!