As consumers across the country have become more concerned with where their food comes from, and federal, state, and regional regulators have initiated numerous new requirements and rules to help satisfy this need, many in the agricultural community have been scrambling to keep pace.
“Food safety has become very big these past few years, especially here in California,” says Greg Musson, CEO for ag retailer Gar Tootelian, based in Reedley. “And California has a lot of regulations to follow.”
For this reason and a few others, Agrian Inc. was founded in 2004. Based in Clovis, CA, the company brings together compliance, precision, agronomy, sustainability, analytics, and mobile technology in one unified platform with the goal of making it easier for growers, agronomists, professional crop advisors, retailers, and food processors to document all of their activities consistently.
“Agrian started as a cloud-based recordkeeping system to help those in the western U.S. navigate the ever-growing regulatory requirements,” says Richard Machado, President. “The company expanded its digital capabilities to include a platform approach to help agronomists, growers, and food processors work collaboratively within one system, to accomplish many tasks, including food company reporting, crop planning, scouting, imagery, soil and tissue sampling, logged and wireless data transfer, variable-rate, and nutrient management to create a record of each crop in every market, whether in specialty fruit crops, cereal grains, or oilseeds.”
According to Angela Blanks, Vice President of Client Services, Agrian currently has more than 200,000 growers/users being managed by its various data systems. “With Agrian you can leave behind point solutions that only perform one task and move your operation to a system your entire field team can utilize throughout the season,” Blanks says. “Our users are conducting field samples, using zone management practices and even map layering, which gives customers the option to look at a field using multiple layers all at once, allowing them to do some sophisticated analytics.”
Agrian for Food Processing
One of the first companies to begin working with Agrian was Wawona Frozen Foods. Based not far from Agrian’s Clovis headquarters, Wawona was founded in 1963 as a processor for such California-grown crops as strawberries, plums, pears, and peaches.
“We process, on average, around 65 million pounds of peaches within 90 days from our three facilities, two in Fresno and one in Watsonville,” says William Smittcamp, Wawona President and CEO. “We conduct a lot of business with various large food retailers, such as Wal-Mart, and do private label packaging for many other customers.”
As one of only a handful of frozen peach processors left in the U.S., Wawona used to track all its food product movements through the distribution pipeline the old-fashioned way — using pencil and paper. “There used to be a lot of paper chasing going on at our company all the time,” says Smittcamp. “It got to be a real headache at times.”
Then, approximately 10 years ago, Wawona began using Agrian in its operations. Now, says Smittcamp, his company — or an auditor — can simply go to a website and see all of the grower reports quickly and easily.
“The Agrian system has helped mitigate a lot of the risk we used to deal with,” he says. “It gives me a great deal of relief to know that the Agrian folks are taking care of all the reporting our growers do.”
Agrian at a Retailer
At Gar Tootelian, Agrian has also led to less paper chasing, Musson says. A long-time member of the CropLife 100, Gar Tootelian works with all kinds of growers in the Golden State. As part of this, the company interacts with PCAs across California. In the past this involved plenty of paperwork.
“We used to have an internal system for handling all this information,” he says. “There was always a lot of paper chasing around here for four or five months every year as we tried to take all the data from all these different places and try our best to combine them together.”
In 2008, tired of spending what he estimates to have been more than 4,000 man hours each year getting all of this information properly organized, Gar Tootelian decided to give the Agrian system a try. This gave Gar Tootelian the ability to file reports directly with local municipalities and the State of California. “Agrian uses an interface that allows us to talk between our program and their program, so we can easily link to all the activity we are performing within the field with the growing sites documented by the state,” Musson says.
In addition, the Agrian system also prevents the wrong recommendations from slipping through the cracks. According to Sonya Garcia, a representative in the Dispatch Department for Gar Tootelian, approximately 2% to 3% of the company’s growers are organic only. “So if the Agrian system identifies a grower as organic, it won’t allow any a recommendation by a PCA to be placed that would accidentally include a non-organic product,” Garcia says.
This type of safeguard also exists for restricted use products in California, such as Lorsban (chlorpyrifos). “To apply Lorsban, you used to have to fax a notice of intent to the county office before applying,” says Robert Fahey, a PCA for Gar Tootelian. “But now Agrian can send this information very quickly so the grower can apply what he needs to a lot faster than in the past.”
More recently, Musson says, Agrian has aided Gar Tootelian to satisfy another new California state requirement regarding application work and timing. “The system has helped us with a complicated new issue passed by the county,” he says. “In 2018 California passed guidelines that said spraying couldn’t be done by growers that were located within one-quarter mile of a school during school hours Monday through Friday. With all the information we have stored in the Agrian system, it can catch which of our growers fall into this requirement and make certain that any application recommendations are in compliance with this ruling.”
In the end, Musson says, Agrian has helped streamline agriculture, for grower-customers and the company itself. “Using Agrian has uncomplicated the process for growers to have the information they need to stay in business,” he says.