"California's ‘Salad Bowl' is cultivating more than crops" PBS NewsHour 11/30/2016
SUMMARY: In California's Salinas Valley, known as the "Salad Bowl of the World,” a push is underway to expand agriculture's adoption of technology. The mobile app HeavyConnect, for example, enables farm managers to track personnel and equipment efficiently. Special correspondent Cat Wise reports on how such innovation is providing new opportunities for the Valley's largely Hispanic population.
CAT WISE (NewsHour): As the sun rose over the fertile land of Salinas Valley, California, one recent morning, a group of farm workers waited to sign in for their shift, not on paper, as they normally do, but on an iPad, where an app has their name and job assignments already programmed in.
They are using Heavyconnect, a new mobile communication app designed to help farm managers keep better track of equipment and personnel. And the team that developed it were out bright and early to check in one of their newest customers, farm manager Sam Brigantino, who works for a large grower called Tanimura and Antle.
Co-founder Jessica Gonzalez walked him through a new update.
JESSICA GONZALEZ, HeavyConnect: You see the times they worked, and if they had any breaks and meals, it would be in between there. The jobs they did here, the legal statement.
SAM BRIGANTINO: Yeah, I like the pull-downs much better on this one.
JESSICA GONZALEZ: Basically, the functionality and flow is all the same. It's just an update to the U.I.
CAT WISE: An app's U.I., or User Interface, is not a typical topic of conversation on most farms. But scenes like this are becoming more common throughout Salinas.
That's because there's a effort under way by many in the community to make this valley a bit more like a certain high-tech valley to the north. A very visible sign of that effort is this new Silicon Valley-esque office space. It's an incubator for ag-focused startups that opened last December in downtown Salinas.
And it's where HeavyConnect and a number of other small companies are now coding away, hoping to break into the $50 billion-a-year fresh produce industry. And that's just in California.
PATRICK ZELAYA, HeavyConnect: We believe that, when it comes to ag-tech, if you can make it in the Salinas Valley, you're going to be able to have a product that will be adopted globally.
CAT WISE: HeavyConnect co-founder Patrick Zelaya is a former John Deere sales manager who has spent a lot of time with farmers. He says he started the company because he saw a big need for a product that would help farmers get back something they have very little of: time.
PATRICK ZELAYA: In large-scale farming, the job is a 14-hour-a-day six days a week. What's not commonly known is that farmers spend more time on the administration, managing the operation, than they do farming. So, HeavyConnect provides farmers the ability to know what's going on in their farm operationally without having to be there.
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