Top Growers Ground-Truth Promise of Precision Agriculture

Top Growers Ground-Truth Promise of Precision Agriculture

From left: Patrick Smith, B. T. Loftus Ranches Inc.; Danny Royer, Agriculture Executive Consultant; Dan Plath, Washington Fruit and Produce Co.; and Sean Gilbert of Gilbert Orchards participated in a “fireside chat” during the 2019 PrecisionAg VISION Conference in Seattle to discuss ag tech trends in specialty crops. Photo by Robin Siktberg


The migration of the PrecisionAg® VISION Conference in its third year from the Arizona desert to Seattle, WA, and the lush Pacific Northwest region offered a chance for specialty crop growers to weigh in on their own precision journeys, writes James Sulecki on

The two-day conference, presented and hosted by Meister Media Worldwide and its Global Precision Initiative, wound down with a fireside chat moderated by American Fruit Grower/Western Fruit Grower Editor David Eddy that featured four “executive growers”: Patrick Smith, Vice President, B. T. Loftus Ranches Inc., Yakima, WA; Danny Royer, Agriculture Executive Consultant, California’s Central Valley; Dan Plath, Vice President, Washington Fruit and Produce Co., Yakima; and Sean Gilbert, President, Gilbert Orchards, Yakima.

Here’s what they discussed.

Adoption in specialty crops. “I always thought specialty crop growers have more money to invest” than do row crop growers, Smith said. But the wide range and smaller scale of specialty crop operations and disparities of regions and growing systems are probably daunting for many suppliers, the growers suggested, especially when compared with row crop farms that collectively have more production scale and uniformity among them.


Robotics and automation. Plath said his operation hasn’t needed robotics yet but “investment is going that way. We’ll see more of this in the not-too-distant future.” Gilbert noted that the trend to high-density apple orchards grown on trellises results in “wall of fruit” production that is ready-made for robotics, while Royer said additional efforts in genetics “will need to be developed to make these changes happen.”


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