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Agriculture Technology (AGTech)

The Inland Empire’s history with agriculture dates back to the tribes and first people who called the region home. Native people and later Spanish settlers in the region mainly had small scale farms to help provide for local communities (Patterson 2016). This dynamic changed in the late 1800s, when the development of the Santa Fe railroad enabled the development of large-scale citrus farming. The number of citrus groves grew rapidly from the late 1870s onward, and by 1882 there were half a million citrus trees in Southern California, half of which were in Riverside County (Patterson 2016). In addition, the innovation of refrigerated box cars in the early 1890s opened up markets all across the country to local growers (Patterson 2016). Around this time, citrus growers in the region lobbied successfully for the creation of a state-funded research center. Ultimately, in 1907 the University of California established a citrus experiment station in the City of Riverside, which formed the basis of a fully established college campus in 1954 following the growth of college enrollment in California under the GI Bill. Currently, UC Riverside still conducts citrus and agricultural research through the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS) and the Bourns College of Engineering, and the UCR’s plant biology program remains one of the highest ranked in the country. Recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) software are changing the landscape in agriculture. This advanced software is already powering a new generation of machines capable of distinguishing between healthy and sick plants, ultimately increasing yields and reducing labor requirements. Other developments on the horizon are improvements in farming material conservation and autonomous self-driving tractor capabilities. 

Recent Sector Highlights

The Inland Empire continues to be home to agricultural innovation and AGTech start ups. For example, local startups FarmSense, Inc. and SiLi-ion, Inc. were selected as the winners of the inaugural Riverside Angel Summit, a partnership between UC Riverside, the City of Riverside, and community members. The two startups emerged from an initial group of over 50 companies that applied to the competition. 

AGTech companies in the Inland Empire are connected to a larger AGTech ecosystem in Southern California, which includes companies in the Indoor Agriculture or Crop Protection segments, but there are also many in the Precision Agriculture and Sensors and Smart Farm Equipment sectors as well. In fact, this sector crosses state borders and is connected to companies and startups in both Arizona and Nevada as well.

*Overview of the AGTech industry in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. Larta Institute; Atlantic Corporation, 2021 Report.

FarmSense is an agriculture startup founded by UCR professor Eamonn Keogh and Shailendra Singh, who earned his doctoral degree at UCR in 2015. The company has developed ‘FlightSensor,’ a digital monitoring system that alerts growers about crop pests so they can better manage the use of insecticide sprays. This product combines an automated sensor with a data subscription service to provide treatment options based on artificial intelligence and predictive modeling.

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SiLi-ion Inc. is a clean energy startup co-founded by UCR professor Lorenzo Mangolini. The company produces a “drop-in” additive that immediately elevates lithium-ion battery performance. The simple, cost-effective technology is based on the abundant and sustainable materials silicon and carbon and designed to be seamlessly added during manufacturing in large volume lithium-ion battery production facilities. 

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