Hackathons aim to solve real problems and USDA, along with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and the California State Fair, hosted a competitive one this past July. Software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, farmers, farm consultants, marketers and others in the agricultural industry participated in the Hackathon, which was held at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources building in Davis, California. Participants competed for cash prizes at a “pitchfest” in front of a live audience at the California State Fair on Sunday, July 17, Prizes were awarded to the top three apps: first place won $5,000, second place $3,000 and third place $1,500. People who work in agriculture brought with them ideas for problems that technology may help solve.
“Apps for Ag” Hackathons have already resulted in multiple startups and we want to see this momentum continue to grow,” said Robert Tse, USDA California Rural Development chief strategy officer for agriculture technology and innovation. “There was no better place than the State Fair in the Capitol to showcase the ingenuity of California’s Ag tech community.”
One startup that has resulted from a previous Ag hackathon is Ag for Hire, which connects farm workers who need jobs with farmers who need workers. “Apps for Ag is where I met my cofounder, formed the concept and built our first prototype,” said Josh Brown, Ag for Hire founder and CEO. “I would not have been able to find someone so embedded in the agriculture industry on my own.”
At the Apps for Ag Hackathon, our goal was to look for new ideas for solving three big issues affecting agriculture:
- Citrus Greening – an insect and disease complex that has already severely impacted the Florida citrus industry – some of the hackers developed tools to help us detect, track, forecast and prevent this disease
- Drought and Irrigation – California continues to be in a historic drought. It is a complex crisis and agriculture objectively takes the brunt of it. There was a lot of room for innovation for this challenge. We saw ideas from precision irrigation to complex modeling
- Healthy Soil – it’s not just the dirt, but rather it’s a whole delicate mix of different kinds of organic matter. Healthy soil and the impact of farming on the soil ecosystem is a worldwide issue. Whether you deal with nitrate seepage in California or nitrates from our chicken farms in Maryland that goes into the Chesapeake Bay where it endangers our oysters, having our hackers develop solutions for taking better care of our soil is a big and important issue.
A gardening and produce-sharing app took top prize in the Hackathon, The first place team, GivingGarden, took home $7,500 in prize money, custom rodeo belt buckles and a six-month, top-tier membership to the AgStart Incubator in Woodland. The hyper-local, produce-sharing app provides gardening advice from the UC Master Gardener Program and enables backyard gardeners to connect with others who want to share their produce. The GivingGarden team members are Scott Kirkland, Josh Livni, Deema Tamimi and John Knoll.
Solutions begin with innovation and partnerships. “Hackathons are a great way to spur innovation in industry verticals where technology has not been fully adopted,” said Rob Trice, one of the judges and the founder of the Mixing Bowl and Better Food Ventures.