Certainly Jon Esformes CEO of Sunripe is up for big challenges. The family owned company is a key partner with the Fair Food Program in improving working conditions across the tomato industry[i] while simultaneously innovating to offer new non GMO verified varieties like its “Oh so Rosso” tomatoes[ii].
Global food production is under threat from the many effects of climate change and is especially impacted by water scarcity. Agriculture accounts for roughly “70% of water consumption worldwide”[iii] and it is projected that “by 2030 overall demand for water may outstrip supply”[iv] California was particularly hard hit by a severe drought in 2015 which led the farming industry to suffer dramatic losses. The USDA reported decrease of nearly 17 percent in output” and “a revenue loss of $9.6 billion in a single year. That equates to erasing the total sales of eBay”[v]. In Mexico agriculture accounts for 77% of water use and water scarcity is so serious that the government launched a campaign titled: “The City May Run out of Water”[vi].
Sunripe Certified which represents Pacific Tomato Growers has production in California, Florida, and Mexico and will continue to be affected by these impacts of water scarcity. Currently they are employing precision agriculture techniques to reduce their use of water and partnering with local water municipalities to ensure effective water management. In Florida, Pacific Tomato “reduced runoff into the Myakka River by nearly 90% with a unique reuse and recycle water system”[vii] that used drip irrigation embedded under the soil’s surface.
Despite improvements in water efficiency and reduction, Sunripe’s production will remain at risk given the significant depletion of aquifers in its growing regions. To further safeguard against these risks Sunripe should implement methods fit for more extreme conditions including:
Dry Farming –No H2O Needed:
Dry farming eliminates the need for water in tomato production and enhances flavor. While it requires careful management of microclimates, it is an established practice for other crops such as olives and produces better yields than irrigated crops during a drought given the sturdy exterior the plant develops[viii].
CropX – Smart, On Demand Drip Irrigation:
With three sensors and a mobile based app CropX has caused a step change in drip irrigation. CropX “generates daily irrigation maps and automatically applies the right amount of water to different parts of the same field, resulting in lower water and energy usage”[ix] Such an approach dramatically improves a manager’s visibility, analysis and decision making speed creating in essence a digital farm at their fingertips.
Hydroponic Greenhouses – No Soil, Powered by the Sun.
Moving production to regional greenhouses adjacent to customer distribution centers would dramatically reduce energy, water, and transportation costs. This could enable Sunripe to set up operations outside of water constrained areas and reduce lead times to customers thereby improving freshness and extending shelf life. Other tomato competitors such as Sundrop are experimenting with innovative models. Sundrop’s groundbreaking greenhouse which launched this October uses solar power and sea water to grow 15,000 tons of tomatoes a year to supply the Australian retailer Coles[x].
AI – Robots for Agriculture
Sensor networks and autonomous mobile robots have the potential to make greenhouses largely self-sufficient. Robots that manage planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting are currently under development thanks to funding by the EU[xi]. Greenhouses are well positioned to integrate such systems given the confined space and ability to install tracks to plan robot’s routes. By incorporating artificial intelligence into its greenhouses, Sunripe could maintain centralized visibility to production while greatly reducing the need for daily manual labor to maintain these new facilities.
Robots harvesting bell peppers
While these solutions may seem extreme for a family run company like Sunripe, we must ask ourselves, how else will we stand a chance against the magnitude of climate change?
[i] New York Times/Steven Greenhouse. 2014. In Florida Tomato Fields, a Penny Buys Progress. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/business/in-florida-tomato-fields-a-penny-buys-progress.html#. [Accessed 3 November 2016].
[ii] The Packer/Ashley Nickle. 2016. Sunripe introduces Oh So Rosso tomato. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.thepacker.com/news/sunripe-introduces-oh-so-rosso-tomato. [Accessed 3 November 2016].
[iv] Giulio Boccaletti, Sudeep Maitra, and Martin Stuchtey, “Transforming Water Economies,” McKinsey & Company, 2012 [ONLINE] Available at: http://mckinsey.com/~/McKinsey/dotcom [Accessed 3 November 2016].
[vi] Krebs M, 2009. “Water shortage in Mexico City could echo the global water issue“, Digital Journal. Retrieved 3 November 2016
[vii] Growing Produce/Growing Produce Staff. 2008. 2008 Grower Achievement Award Finalists. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.growingproduce.com/vegetables/grower-achievement-award/2008-grower-achievement-award-finalists/. [Accessed 3 November 2016].
[viii] CUESA/Brie Mazurek. 2012. Farming without water. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cuesa.org/article/farming-without-water. [Accessed 3 November 2016].
[ix] Israel 21c/Abigail Klein Leichman. 2015. What’s next for drip irrigation?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.israel21c.org/whats-next-for-drip-irrigation/. [Accessed 3 November 2016].
[x] ABC News/Kerry Staight. 2016. Sundrop Farms pioneering solar-powered greenhouse to grow food without fresh water. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-01/sundrop-farms-opens-solar-greenhouse-using-no-fresh-water/7892866. [Accessed 3 November 2016].