ESCONDIDO — A first-of-its-kind “hackathon” will bring together the region’s historical agriculture and technology industries to inspire new companies and find solutions for area farmers.
Plans for the first AgTech Hackathon emerged almost exactly a year ago when Jennifer Schoeneck, the city’s deputy director of economic development, reached out to entrepreneur and investor Neal Bloom of Fresh Brewed Tech.
Bloom’s media company aims to promote and bring together the county’s tech industries.
Agricultural technology, also known by its shorthand name “ag-tech,” has emerged through a variety of advances, including the science of livestock and crops, soil improvement, equipment, sensors, improved sustainability practices, food safety, and data stewardship through the use of artificial intelligence (AI), 5G technology, geographical information systems (GIS) and even agriculture-related cybersecurity.
Ag-tech builds upon already existing agricultural practices through the use of new, advanced technologies.
San Diego is home to a plethora of agricultural resources and biotechnology, making it an ideal location for the upcoming AgTech Hackathon, the first of its kind in the county to be hosted in Escondido, a city known for its farming history.
“What’s unique about it here, especially in North County, is that we have a lot of agriculture – a lot of farms – and those farms have challenges whether it’s water or soil related,” Bloom said. “We have a lot of opportunity in the logistics part of the movement of food, getting it across borders from local to abroad, and a lot of real-world problems solving that is ripe for tech to come into play.”
Through the hackathon, community members from both industries and beyond can come together to find solutions to existing problems with the use of technology for farmers today.
“We need to create new solutions,” Bloom said.
Bloom has previously worked on hackathons for other industries in the region. After a four-year break, he is excited to start hosting more of these types of hackathons in the future.
The AgTech Hackathon will take place Oct. 21-23 at the Synergy CoWorking Centre — home to several startup companies and a coding school in Escondido — starting with a social event on Friday, followed by the hackathon’s kickoff.
Attendees interested in developing solutions will collaborate in teams and create their plans throughout Saturday. Then on Sunday, the teams will pitch their solutions to investors, who will rate their ideas and award cash prizes and mentorship opportunities to the top performers.
The hackathon is also a way for city staff like Schoeneck to gauge the community’s interest in starting an ag-tech business incubator. Depending on the success of this year’s AgTech Hackathon, Schoeneck hopes to begin hosting them annually in the city.
“From a data and historical perspective, it just makes sense for Escondido,” Schoeneck said.
According to Schoeneck, agriculture is listed as one of the key industry groups in the city’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), a plan that creates objectives to guide city staff in exploring the city’s potential for economic growth.
The agriculture industry contributes more than $77 million in gross regional product for Escondido, which has a rich agricultural history compared to other regions of the county. The city’s farms account for 19% of the county’s agricultural production – a $1.79 billion industry countywide.
“The first avocado tree in San Diego County was planted in Escondido,” Schoeneck said.
Beyond the AgTech Hackathon, Escondido is also working on its Membrane Filtration and Reverse Osmosis (MFRO) project, which will construct a facility to treat a portion of the city’s existing recycled water supply using membrane filtration and reverse osmosis technologies.
The treated water will be blended with recycled water not treated by the MFRO process to produce water with a good salt concentration and will be pumped to agricultural users. The facility will have a maximum production capacity of 20 million gallons of water per day and is set to debut in 2023.
California, in general, is both a tech sector and the largest food-growing state in the nation. The state averages $50 million annually in agricultural revenue but also faces many challenges with climate change, water resources and workforce numbers.
While farmers and tech developers are welcomed to the hackathon, other community members and industries are encouraged to participate in the event.
“We need a lot of diverse thought,” Bloom said.
Those interested in attending can register ahead of time or upon arrival.