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Podcast Ep. 105: Growing Innovations

21 Nov 2019  •  Tony Kramer

Live, from the Growing Innovations Conference! Well, sort of.

Host Tony Kramer takes us live and onsite to this annual conference - a groundbreaking conference and exhibition, uniquely designed to bring together growers across all specialty crops and unite them with the comprehensive knowledge and resources they need to adapt and thrive.

Check out past episodes and guests – visit the  Episode Archive.

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Read through Episode 105:

Anthony Kramer: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 105. Today, we are at the Growing Innovations conference at the Las Vegas Convention Center. This episode is going to be a brief recap of this show, as it will be posting one week after the conference has concluded. What I'm looking to do here is just give our listeners a brief overview of some of the vendors that were there, as well as talk with a representative from Meister Media to learn about the Growing Innovations conference and why it came about.

We are here at the Growing Innovations conference, a show that is put on by Meister Media, and I actually have Jim Sulecki here, the Chief Content Officer with Meister Media, and he's going to tell us a little bit about Growing Innovations and how it came to be. Jim, thanks for taking the time to talk to me here, and telling us a little more about Growing Innovations.

Jim Sulecki: Okay, thanks, Anthony. It's great to have RDO here as well. I'm sure, hopefully, from your perspective as supplier, RDO is getting a lot of value out of this. We've got a lot of great suppliers here, focused on a number of solutions, irrigation solutions, crop protection solutions, automation solutions, all sorts of things here. That's really what it was, fundamentally the reason why we started this event, was to be solutions-oriented.

As we know, there's a lot of events in horticulture that are for the greenhouse market or for the vegetable market or the fruits and nuts and vines market. What we realized publishing American Fruit GrowerWestern Fruit GrowerAmerican Vegetable Grower magazine, Greenhouse Grower magazine, Florida Grower magazine, is that growers like to talk to each other. A greenhouse grower would really like an opportunity to talk to a fruit grower, or a vegetable grower would like to talk to a citrus grower, whatever the case may be. That was one of the first foundational rationales that we had.

The second is that to have an event for growers that's very much focused on solutions, as I mentioned. A lot of events are out there on technologies, broadly, or they're grower events that talk about Washington policy and regulations and things like that. What we want to do here is bring the wide array of especially crop growers, particularly in the western United States, into Mexico, into Canada a little bit, to get together and focus completely on solutions. That's really where we are in year two here, and we're really pleased. Our trade show has expanded by about a third this year.

We got a number of great exhibitors here, and we're tracking probably slightly ahead of our tenants on the growers' side as well, which we think is pretty good, considering the tough year that we've had here in agriculture due to weather and a lot of the trade uncertainty. We're pretty pleased with the event so far. By the way, Meister Media does this event with a group called The Next Media Group. They are very experienced with putting on major trade shows like this. We brought the horsepower of what they've done in other industries, and then we brought our knowledge of agriculture and horticulture together to start Growing Innovations.

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Anthony: As you said, this is year number two. Obviously, year number one went well. You said we got a little bit of growth here in year number two. So it's been a great show and you guys have seen a lot of great reception out of it.

Jim: We've seen a lot of great reception. People have said that this is a very quality event for them to attend. We had Danny Royer, one of our speakers this morning, who is a consultant to this in the precision agriculture area, and he said, it was an interesting observation, he said this probably the biggest concentration of growers he's ever presented to. Then, of course, we also have, as we mentioned, the suppliers are very much solutions-oriented.

So we're very pleased with the matchmaking that's happening here. A lot of good quality conversations in the tradeshow floor, and some really good presenters, I think in our general session, focused again, and not only on production solutions or technology solutions, but on business solutions, staffing solutions. So much focus on the total management of the farm.

Anthony: Yes, absolutely. I've had the opportunity to sit through a few of those general session discussions and some of the keynote speakers that have been up there. You guys have put together a great show here. I really look forward to coming back for day two tomorrow and talking to more attendees, as well as some of the exhibitors here. So thank you very much, Jim, for taking the time to tell us a little bit about Growing Innovations and how it came to be.

Jim: Thank you, Anthony. It's been great to have you here. Thank you.

Anthony: I'm here at the growing innovation show, talking with Steve Booher from Smart Guided Systems. Steve, tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, and a little bit about your product.

Steve Booher: Sure, Anthony. Smart Guided Systems is an Indianapolis based company. We were founded five years ago. We developed an auto steer program for a major OEM. We also developed a golf sprayer system for golf course spraying, individualized control. Now our main product focus is called the Intelligent Spray Control System. It was developed by the USDA. We received a five-year exclusive license technology agreement to commercialize. Now we've started rolling that out to large growers around the US, including some of your branches in Washington State, to be able to demo to customers.

Anthony: Yes. We were just talking a little bit here that you've been working with some of my colleagues in Washington State, getting a demo machine out there. Growing Innovations, Steve, let's talk a little bit about this. What brings a company like you to the Growing Innovations show?

Steve: What we like about the Growing Innovation show is it's a smaller show and there's very qualified growers here, versus some shows like a lot of shows around the country. When you have thousands of people, are they really interested or just getting the gadgets? So you hand out and kicking the tire. Here, you get real growers making real decisions on equipment and technology.

Anthony: That's one thing I have noticed, that the conversations are very, very in-depth. A lot of great talk with attendees. One of the things I always like to ask, Steve, in today's day and age with internet and social media and everything, are agriculture trade shows and expos like Growing Innovations, are they still worth it? Is it worth it for the growers and the vendors to come out and show what they have or for the attendees that come and ask questions?

Steve: Every show we think, "Is this the last time we'll attend the show?" But every time we come to a show, similar to Growing Innovations, we always meet good customers, good potential customers, and as you know, all it takes is one or two, one or two good leads to generate a lot of business, and we've definitely found that at this show.

Anthony: Absolutely. That's great to hear. If anybody has any questions or wants to learn more about the Smart Guided Systems, where can they go and who can they talk to?

Steve: You can go to It's focused solely on the Intelligence Spray control System. There's videos and all the information. There's 47 published research papers on the site. Or you can call us. Just google "smart guided systems" or "smart apply" and contact from there.

Anthony: Great. Thanks for chatting with me here, Steve.

Steve: You're welcome. Thanks, Anthony.

Anthony: I got the chance to stop here by the Sentera booth here at Growing Innovations, and I'm here with Greg Emerick, cofounder and Director of New Strategic Ventures with Sentera. Greg, tell us a little bit about yourself and about the Sentera product.

Greg Emerick: Sure. Well, Sentera has been around since 2014, been a longtime partner RDO, and very proud to talk about that with you today and share that with others, of course. Our focus here, while we're at the show, is primarily on the specialty crop industry. We got started early on in row crops. Honestly, it was probably some of the hardest work we did, but some of the best work we've done because we started with really small plants.

When you can figure out how to identify small plants, count small plants, do phenotyping, all the other things that we do from a production or research perspective, we can now take that and then work with stuff that's much bigger and much easier to work with, when you start talking about permanent crops. Of course, specialty crops are the same way. We've got this really wonderful opportunity to do things that our customers really taught us how to do. They started saying, "Hey, we've been using your technology to do this or to do that. Can you help us do a better job?"

So about a year ago from right now, I really started to get much more involved in the specialty crop industry. Today, we've got customers around the globe that are using our technology for permanent crops, a lot with trees, so citrus, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, all of those kinds of things that sometimes sound a little odd to us, especially in the Midwest. It's been a really wonderful opportunity for us to use our technology in ways that we didn't originally plan, and it's bringing such benefits to our customers.

Anthony: With Sentera and the aerial imagery that you guys are collecting with the UAVs, the drones, you mentioned "us in the upper Midwest," Minnesota, North Dakota, where we all hail from, commodity crops, talking corn, soybeans, things like that, we're collecting the NDVI, the plant health imagery, things like that. Where is the value in aerial imagery when it comes to the specialty crops? What are they using this imagery for?

Greg: A great question. Some of it's the exact same thing. It is NDVI. We're trying to find stress in the crop. However, it's different in the sense that you've got to look at- trees in particular, we don't want to see the background, we only want to see the canopy. The way we manage the data and how we look at the data is different, and we'll only look at the canopy, and then define the health of the tree on an individual basis. We'll know the individual location of each tree, we can tell you the health of each tree, the size of the canopy, all of those things that are very unique or specific to permanent crops when we talk about trees. Then of course, this can be brought into vineyards, and all sorts of other specialty crops like lettuces and other things that are being produced in the Southern Valley.

Anthony: A lot of the similarities to what I'm used to in corn, soybean, wheat, sugar beets, stuff like that. It's really great to see. You just grabbed one of your new toys. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the new sensor you guys are offering?

Greg: We just built and just released. This is a five narrowband multi-spectral sensor, global shutters, 3.2 megapixels in each of those and then one of them's a 20 megapixel RGB camera. The really interesting part is this camera is capable of triggering all of them at the exact same time and then we can marry up the data to do all sorts of different analytics and band math. It's really been a unique tool that hasn't been seen in the industry at today.

It of course flies around on a drone. The neat part is we actually are creating a sensor today or creating a tool today from this sensor that is being used to identify citrus greening or HLB. Incredibly important. It's been devastating in Florida. The probability of that disease spreading across North America is very high. It's made its way in migration across the south. California is very concerned. We're doing things to work with California Citrus Mutual and the USDA in order to try and help identify this early pre-symptomatically so that they can take action and have a profound effect on the entire industry.

We're really proud of it. It's really cool technology. Of course, we're really proud of having a partner like RDO. Thanks a ton for asking me all these great questions.

Anthony: You guys are doing great things in the sensor industry, collecting this aerial imagery and doing a lot of awesome stuff. I want to talk to you just a couple of seconds here about the growing innovations show. You talked a little bit about how your solution, how your tools can be used in the orchards, the vineyards, the specialty crops. Coming to a Growing Innovation Show like this, why does Sentera come here?

Greg: As our customer base expands with this new technology, we've got people asking us to participate in these events. We'd never been here before. We recognize that we could add a lot of value. These are our customers, these are the people that are showing up. They're your customers too. For us, it's been great because everybody comes to one place. If they spend the money to attend an event like this, they're serious about it and those serious customers end up being the types of people that are really interested in trying to generate solutions for themselves and of course, Sentera is a good solution provider.

Podcast Ep. 105 - Quote Image2

Anthony: That's definitely a recurring comment that is made is the quality of attendees that come to this show. It's really great to hear another vendor like yourself, talk about the great conversations that are being had. One of the last things I always like to ask people is, today's day and age we have the internet, we have social media, everything like that, is a trade show or an Ag Expo like growing innovations? Is it worth it in today's day?

Greg: It's great to do marketing, but in the end, you've got to press some flesh, have a conversation with a human being and in the end, that's what makes us all work. It does work nicely. It's really important for us to get in front of our customers and deal with people and help solve true problems and not just make a bunch of noise. There's a lot of folks out there that are waving their arms and making a lot of noise, but they aren't solving too many problems. We're happy to share what we're capable of doing. It really, really makes a difference to do it in person.

Anthony: Absolutely. The in-person aspect of it really makes the conversation even better. I just want to thank you, Greg, for taking a minute out of your day to chat with me here about Sentera and your solutions as well as talk a little bit about growing innovations.

Greg: Thanks, Tony, and thanks for RDO been such a great partner of ours.

Anthony: I'm here at the Growing Innovations Conference in the RDO equipment company booth. Got one of my colleagues here standing next to me, Brian Feemster. Brian, tell us a little bit about the Growing Innovation Show and how the conversations have gone with some of the customers and people you've been talking to.

Brian: This show has been really informative and has been very beneficial to both us and growers that have come through. We've had the opportunity, talked to growers and customers of ours that are interested in the technology and the equipment and the services that RDO provides. We've also had the opportunity to talk to other vendors to find solutions for our customers that we didn't know was out there.

Overall, we've had a lot of success here, a lot of discussions with different vendors, different customers, and all over in different regions, really. We've had the opportunity to start the discussions with the Vision Robotics technology, and how we might be able to adapt that to their farming operations such as orchards and vineyards and things of that nature. It's been a really wonderful experience and good time here.

Anthony: Yesterday you got the opportunity to do a grow talk, talking about the Vision Robotics, lettuce thinning and I know here at the booth that drummed up a lot of conversation. If I heard correctly, we got a few demos in the works or maybe a few purchases. Definitely a lot of good conversation.

Brian: Absolutely. Immediately after coming off of the grow talk, stepping off the stage, I had two growers approached me asking about the Vision Robotics machine, and have started scheduling demos for this upcoming spring season.

Anthony: I got one last question that I like to ask everybody. Nowadays with the internet, social media, all of those types of platforms is an Ag Expo, a trade show, things like this, like Growing Innovations, are they worth it? Are they worthwhile the time and the investment to come out? Whether you're a vendor or an attendee, is it worth it to be here?

Brian: Absolutely. I think if the show is done right, like they did here, I think it's well worth it. Especially this show here, it's dealing with specialty crops in the western region, which we don't get a lot of out there. It is well worth the time and investment because, like I said before, we found other vendors that we can potentially partner with and find solutions for our growers and customers, and vice versa. Customers that didn't even know that Vision Robotics was out there for instance, that we can adapt and make equipment to fit their needs. It's been very beneficial to everyone here and a lot of information and a lot of stuff going around that we weren't aware of and others weren't aware of. I think it's well worth the time and investment to do so.

Anthony: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me here and give a little recap about the Growing Innovation Show.

Brian: Thank you very much, Tony. I appreciate it.


Tony Kramer

Tony Kramer is the Product Manager of Planting Technology and a Certified Crop Advisor at RDO Equipment Co. He is also the host of the Agriculture Technology podcast. If you have any questions for Tony or would like to be a guest on the podcast, you can find him on X at @RDOTonyK.

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