Drought-focused AgTech company raises $9 million, can cut water use by 25 percent

With drought conditions accelerating, water management has become a critical issue facing growers. CropX, an AgTech company focused on adaptive irrigation software, announced that it has raised $9 million in financing. The software increases crop yield while providing water and energy cost savings.

"Our service saves up to 25 percent of the water and energy used in irrigation of large fields," the company states on its website.

The CropX system automatically analyzes the water needs of different parts of each field based on topography, soil structure and current moisture. The software uses advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data to transform traditional farming techniques.cropxCropX can help cut water use by as much as 25 percent.

In California alone it was estimated that in 2014 more than 500,000 acres were fallowed because of the drought. Some are estimating that number at more than 620,000 for this year.

“The U.S. drought is a growing problem that we must tackle head on," Isaac Bentwich, chief executive officer of CropX, said in a press release. "The farming industry is struggling to manage rising energy costs and restricted water supplies, while trying to decrease water waste and increase crop yields. Our simple software service helps farmers easily grow more with less — and eliminates unnecessary water usage.”

Growers simply download the mobile app and place three wireless sensors in the ground. These sensors continuously send soil readings to the cloud, where the patent-pending CropX software determines how to effectively irrigate different parts of the field based on pattern-recognition analysis and revolutionary algorithms. Growers can self-install the system without expensive infrastructure or significant consulting input during the installation process.

The $9 million investment will be used to expand the CropX team and scale the company to meet the increasing need among growers for low-cost and simplified, remote control of their irrigation. It will also fund new product development including controls in nutrition, plant protection, and planting and harvesting prediction.

“Before CropX, there was no cost-effective way to control our irrigation infrastructure,” noted Mike Mills, a Missouri grower and CropX customer. “We are now able to accurately and easily manage our irrigation and make real-time adjustments — all from a smartphone and across multiple farms and fields. CropX’s solution allows us to lower our water and energy usage.”

CropX’s product was developed by a team of world-leading scientists and technology experts in Israel, a global leader in water conservation technology, and New Zealand, and was validated on-farm over the past five years.

Supreme Court overturns crop reserve program

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 22 that a federal program requiring growers to set aside a certain percentage of their crop to support pricing violates the Fifth Amendment prohibition of taking private property for public use without just compensation.

The case revolves around raisin growers Marvin and Laura Horne, who in 2001 established a coalition of 61 raisin growers in Fresno and Madera counties in California, known as the Raisin Valley Marketing Association. The Hornes contended that they are producers rather than handlers, and thus not subject to the set-aside program. After refusing to participate, they were assessed $480,000 for the raisins’ value and fined $200,000.

The case was heard in several venues over the years, with different rulings reached by lower courts.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, which ruled that the “Takings Clause” does not apply to raisins.

The June 22 ruling is a significant departure from past practice by the high court, which has long upheld limits on farm production and marketing rules, dating back to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, which closely regulated agriculture to help a languishing economy during the Great Depression.

In writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “A physical taking of raisins and a regulatory limit on production may have the same economic impact on a grower. The Constitution, however, is concerned with the means as well as the ends,” and the program ran afoul of the “Takings Clause.”

Roberts was joined in his opinion by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

In a separate opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagen in saying that the program was a taking but may have benefited the Hornes in lifting prices. Breyer said the case should be sent to a lower court.

In dissenting, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that since the Hornes retained some of the property rights even after the raisins were surrendered, thus the program was not a taking.

A.J. Trucco enjoying great response to its Chilean gold kiwi

There’s nothing pleasing to a produce supplier’s ears than to hear positive feedback about the product it is supplying to its customers. And that’s exactly what A.J. Trucco is hearing about its new Chilean gold kiwifruit program.TRU-Gold-2lb-Clam-Chile

In early June, as shipments were arriving in the United States, Nick Pacia, president and chief executive officer of the company located on the Hunts Point market in the Bronx, NY, said in a press release that he was thrilled to announce the start of this new program for the company.

“In March we visited our orchards in Chile, and we could see that the quality of the Jintao variety kiwifruit was unparalleled,” Pacia said in the release. “And we knew this unique variety would be a great addition to our already strong offerings.”

As of early June, A.J. Trucco was already experiencing great success with the program. Shipments of the gold kiwifruit are now arriving in Philadelphia and Newark. The fruit is being sold in volume-fill boxes and in one- and two-pound clamshells.

“We are very pleased with our customers’ feedback on the gold Chilean kiwifruit,” Pacia told The Produce News June 18. “They have been very happy with the quality of the fruit.”

This season’s program is good in volume, and it will run through August.

Pacia noted that due to the company’s success with the item this year, it hopes to double its volume next season.

“We are very excited about this product, and we have scheduled some demos with our customers for later in the season,” he added. “We look forward to increasing customer and consumer awareness of the product in the market, and we will be promoting it throughout the season.”

Pear Bureau Northwest names winners in retail display contest

Pear Bureau Northwest has named 39 winners of its second annual “Pear Up with USA Pears” display contest.

The contest invited all retailers from across the United States and Canada to build an eye-catching display that features Green Anjou, Red Anjou and Bosc pears at minimum, with inclusion of other varieties of USA Pears encouraged.

To qualify for the contest, the display was required to be maintained for at least one week during the January-to-March timeframe.

Entries were judged on a 100-point scale for appearance, creativity, and educational impact. Five bonus points were added to entries that included any of the jumbo-size pears readily available this season.

“The produce managers participating in the contest went over and above with eye-catching and educational displays that are sure to increase pear sales for their retailers,” Kathy Stephenson, marketing communications director at Pear Bureau Northwest, said in a press release. “Selecting only a few winners was a difficult task, with many entries showing exceptional creativity. We appreciate everyone who created memorable displays and thank them for contributing to our pear category.”

First-, second- and third-place winners plus 10 honorable mentions were named in three store categories (1-5 cash registers, 6-9 cash registers and 10-plus cash registers), for a total of 39 cash prizes being awarded. First-place winners received $1,000, second-place winners received $750, third-place winners received $500 and honorable mentions received $150. As recognition for their participation, all who entered were awarded a gift card for Amazon.com valued at $20.

The winners for the 1-5 cash registers category are:

  • 1st Place: Nicoline Hill of Billie's Market in Onamia, MN.
  • 2nd Place: Kelly Kesler of Kesler’s Market in Blackfoot, ID.
  • 3rd Place: Holly Mathis of Neighborhood Co-op Grocery in Carbondale, IL.

Honorable Mentions: Sheila Burt of Mike's Food Center in St. Charles, MN, Lynette DeClerck of Pana County Market in Pana, IL, Ryan Ellison of Food City in Oliver Springs, TN, Nancy Hoffstetter of Cortland Sparkle Market in Cortland, OH, Jason Kirkpatrick of Foodland in South Pittsburgh, TN, Susan Kotarba of Hardings Market in Dowagiac, MI, Kia LaPier of Tops Markets in Schroon Lake, NY, Titus Lohr of Al's Supermarkets West in LaPorte, IN, Kelly Nowak of Leppinks Food Center in Belding, MI, and Randy Tolleson of Foodland in Boaz, AL.

The winners for the 6-9 cash registers category are:

  • 1st Place: Kathie Meyer of Port Townsend Food Co-op in Port Townsend, WA.
  • 2nd Place: David Scarlett of KVAT Food Stores in Knoxville, TN.
  • 3rd Place: George Marken of U.S. Air Force Commissary at USAFA in Colorado.

Honorable Mentions: Dawn Beckby of Henderson's IGA in Valentine, NE, Brad Clark of Harps in Springdale, AR, David Dozier of GFF Foods in Moore, OK, Michael Garrett of Rosauers Supermarkets in Yakima, WA, Nathan Goldsmith of Huckleberry's Natural Market in Spokane, WA, Chad Miller of Sprouts Market in Flower Mound, TX, Efrain Ruiz of Ray's Foodplace in Cloverdale, CA, Susan Seward of Safeway in Yakima, WA, Chad Sinclair of Kuhn's Market in Moon Township, PA, and Bill Pfannenstiel of Price Cutter Plus in Lebanon, MO.

The winners for the 10 or more cash registers category are:

  • 1st Place: Ken Marske of Schmitz's in Spooner, WI.
  • 2nd Place: David Fugiel of Caputos in Carole Stream, IL.
  • 3rd Place: G. Michael Oliver of Pennington Quality Market in Pennington, NJ.

Honorable Mentions: Amy Bell of Haggen in Gig Harbor, WA, Cay McConnell of Food City in Blountville, TN, Esteban Gonzalez of Rouse's Market in Gretma, VA, Justin Fiscus of Dutchway in Myerstow, PA, Mario Decaro of Tops Market in Cheektowaga, NY, Michelle Bowley of Marketplace Foods in Minot, ND, Pat Deroche of Rouses Market in Houma, LA, Terry Inder of Dominion in Corner Brook, NF, Tim Oldenkamp of Safeway in Silverdale, WA, and Travis Jones of Food City (KVAT) in Kingsport, TN.

Raley’s to launch imperfect produce program

Raley’s is getting ready to launch a program to market aesthetically imperfect produce at a lower price point. The pilot program, “Real Good” produce, will start off in 10 Northern California stores beginning mid-July. Made possible by a partnership with Imperfect Produce, it enhances the produce offerings at Raley’s.

In the United States, over 40 percent of food grown is wasted, for many reasons, including aesthetic standards, according to Raley's. The new program aims to find a new home for the imperfect produce, which otherwise would have gone to waste.

“Raley’s is proud to take a meaningful step forward to help reduce food waste in our country," Meg Burritt, director of wellness and sustainability, said in a statement. “Our ‘Real Good’ produce will educate our customers about the food system, offer our growers a new pathway to market their produce, and provide greater access to produce that is aesthetically imperfect, but just as flavorful and nutritious.”