GETTING ON BOARD

It might not take much convincing, because investors are catching on to the fact that agriculture is one of the most fertile labs for innovation. In fact, Goldberg said, the RAPID team has been talking to potential backers in Israel (the birthplace of drip irrigation, incidentally).


Not all growers embrace high tech, said UC Merced Professor Viers, an agro-ecology expert who helped cultivate the RAPID co-robotics project from a small seed grant about four years ago.


“Some folks say, ‘There is no way in my lifetime this is ever going to be a thing, so I don’t care,’” Viers said. “On the other end of the spectrum, I know a local grower who lost a top technologist who left to start his own robotics company. That is a data point of confirmation that, in fact, this is the direction things are going.”


Viers was referring to Bowles Farming Company in Los Banos, run by Cannon Michael, a friend of the RAPID team. Michael said he is excited to see what his former technologist and the RAPID team come up with. At the same time, he is cautious about adopting every shiny new invention on the market.


“Our thing with technology is there has got to be a clear application and you have to use the most cost-effective tool for the job,” said Michael, whose farm is already pretty tech-forward and, for example, is looking at prototyping an intelligent crop weeding system.