Let's Talk Farm to Fork

Jaime Eltit from FarmWise

October 06, 2021 PostHarvest Season 1 Episode 11
Let's Talk Farm to Fork
Jaime Eltit from FarmWise
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of "Let's Talk Farm to Fork", we're joined by Jaime Eltit from FarmWise, who we will be talking to about how their AI lead, weeding technology allows farmers to precisely and effectively clear growing fields of any harmful weeds and prevent early-stage fresh produce losses.


Voiceover 00:00:00 
Welcome to let's talk farm to fork, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people, making an impact in the fresh produce sector. We'll take a deep dive into what they do and find out how they're helping to reduce the amount of food lost or wasted along the farm to fork journey. But before we get started, did you know that according to the UN's food and agriculture organisation, around 45% of the world's fruits and vegetables go to waste each year?

If you would like to learn more about how you can practically play your part in maximising fruit and vegetable supplies, whether you're a part of the industry or simply a consumer visit PostHarvest.Com and try out their free online course library today. Now time for your host Alex Mospanyuk. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:00:50 
Hi there. My name is Alex Mospanyuk, and welcome to "Let's Talk Farm to Fork", the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain. Today on our show, I am joined by Jaime Eltit from FarmWise, FarmWise creates innovative systems and processes that allows farmers to streamline operation and overall increase food, production efficiency. 

It's interesting stuff. So with no further delays, let's get started. 

Jaime, hi, how are you today? 

Jaime Eltit 00:01:16 
Hey, Alex. Good morning doing well. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:01:18 
Oh, good to hear. Where are you currently?

Jaime Eltit 00:01:20 
I am currently in Salinas, California, or at our headquarters. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:01:24 
Oh, amazing. Okay, cool. Well, before we get into it, just, a, wanted to give you the opportunity to tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do and then while you're out it maybe and fun fact that not many people 

Jaime Eltit 00:01:34 
Sure. So my name is Jaime Eltit. I am currently the head of commercial operations at FarmWise. Um, and let's see something interesting about myself, I guess. Um, I'm left-handed, I was born in Chile and, I have a twin sister. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:01:52 
Okay. Well, those are all three very interesting things. What was your favorite thing about Chile? Do you get to visit often or? 

Jaime Eltit 00:01:57 
Not as often as I'd like, but Yeah. I think, um, what I love about Chile is just how diverse it is. You got, you know, a warm, Mediterranean climate in the, in the central coast, just like California. 

Then you have obviously Patagonia and the Southern range and, uh, one of the driest deserts in the world and the Northern part of the country.

So as a, as a nature lover, You know, uh, it's a, it's a great country as well as on the agriculture side as well. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:02:22 
Yeah right. All right. Well, hey, look on that note. Let's talk farm to fork. 

So, continuing on from telling us what you do, tell us a little bit more about how your company and the product works, what the purpose is and where it operates inside of the food supply chain. 

Jaime Eltit 00:02:35 
Sure. Um, so at FarmWise, you know, we on a high level, we currently create intelligent farm technology. Our, our current line of products focuses on mechanical, weeding of specialty crops at the moment. So, you know, we're definitely. Working mostly specialty crops in the Salinas valley at the moment. Lettuces, you know, Brassicas, cold crops, um, and, and also looking at other other crops, but currently at the weeding stage of the growth cycle. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:03:00 
Okay. All right. That's awesome. And so do you have competitors out there currently? And how does your tech separate you from them?

Jaime Eltit 00:03:06 
Yeah. So great question. Um, so aside from the technical aspects of our product, you know, in which we leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence, um, I would say that another differentiator is our business model. So we work closely with growers, using a service model.

And this kind of allows us to constantly improve and iterate while maintaining a direct line of communication with the end-user. Um, this really has allowed us to pivot in ways that would not be possible if we were, you know, selling equipment. Or, you know, relying on other people to procure the equipment for us.

Um, and you know, it's ultimately led to a more advanced product and superior results. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:03:45 
Yeah, absolutely. I can see that from your website. And just on a personal note, how did you get into the industry? Have you always wanted to be an agriculture? What was the journey about on that one? 

Jaime Eltit 00:03:54 
Yeah. So growing up in Chile, I grew up around agriculture. Uh, family was in agriculture and then I moved to Salinas, um, in middle school. And obviously it was surrounded by a culture of Salinas, produces a, you know, 70 to 80% of the country's lettuce production and, uh, uh, also a good percentage of the world's lettuce production.

So, It was, it was pretty clear early on. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:04:15 
Okay. It's so cool. And so what's the biggest challenge that you've had with your product so far? And how are you in the team planning to overcome it? 

Jaime Eltit 00:04:22 
Great question. So given our market, which is, you know, specialty crop market, um, at the moment we need to, we need to have an extremely dynamic system that can rapidly adapt to, you know, different types of crops configuration. So on any given day, uh, we can be, you know, weeding from five to seven different crops, right?

So. I would say the biggest challenge has been building a system that can adapt to those different crops while at the same time meeting the, the inherent timing or the timing demands that are inherent to farming at an industrial level. Right? So that's, that's, that's brought on a unique set of challenges.

Um, we're definitely solving this by tackling it as an engineering and design challenge, but that's, you know, something that we consider to be one of our core competencies as a company, so. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:05:06 
Yeah, absolutely. 

Jaime Eltit 00:05:07 
It's been definitely a great, a good challenge and also a good differentiator as well. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:05:11 
Okay. And so what was the biggest surprise that you found in working inside of the tech industry in relation to fruits and vegetables? And why was that the biggest surprise?

Jaime Eltit 00:05:19 
I wouldn't say it's a surprise, as someone who's been working in ag, but I think from an outsider's point of view, ag has a reputation for being like very change persistent. 

Um, I find that to be a huge misconception. I think farmers, um, are engineers and innovators by nature. Uh it's it's in their DNA, so they're always adapting in order to, you know, survive and, and they're always, they're having to adapt to, you know, whether it's, uh, regulatory issues or, or, or climate change or, um, trends, consumer demands, et cetera, et cetera.

There's, they're, they're very adaptable. It's a very adaptable, uh, You know, industry and, and I think, Yeah.

I think that's a, that's a big misconception out there. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:06:04 
Okay. That is so interesting. And so do you think in terms of how technology is disrupting industry after industry, and now it's kind of headed for agriculture? Um, do you think farmers are open to involving technology and having to automate the majority of their processes?

Jaime Eltit 00:06:18 
Yeah. I think if you look at farmers, they've always been innovators. I mean, they've always been modifying, inventing, um, equipment, uh, but in general, yeah, I think farmers are more open now to automating some processes because of you know, labour shortages. Uh, I think that's been a massive driver for, for growers to take up innovation, but even prior to that, there's always been innovation, uh, taking place in farming.

Uh, since the beginning of the times. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:06:44 
I love that. That is so cool. And so what is currently one of the biggest pain points or blind spots that you see in the industry?

Jaime Eltit 00:06:51 
Um, definitely labour, from a high level, we're facing a major labour shortage, um, in an industry that's extremely dependent on labour. Right? And so we have, I think that's a definitely multifactorial. 

You're looking at, you know, some political issues, which, you know, um, immigration is one of them, um, higher access to education, uh, better paying jobs, um, things like that.

So I think, you know, labour is by far the biggest pain point. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:07:20 
Okay. All right. Interesting. And so what measures do you think could potentially combat this? Is technology the answer to that labour shortage?

Jaime Eltit 00:07:28 
I think, absolutely. So, I think what we're undertaking here at FarmWise is, is a great example. So we're optimizing certain tasks such as weeding at the moment, for example, which opens the door to make more label labor available somewhere else, right?

The goal here isn't necessarily to replace humans, but it's just to optimise certain tasks that are a better fit for automation and that kind of allows farmers to shift their focus elsewhere. 

Yeah, I think also that's a big misconception that automation is here to replace labour. And I don't think that's necessarily the case. I think automation optimises labour and allows people to move up into higher, paid more skilled positions and really encourages a, a new wave of, you know, of a workforce to come out of this.

Um, Yeah.

So with that being said, I think a lot of processes that are very, very human, capital intensive, and time-intensive can be optimised by labour. And that can really shift the focus, uh, for people to focus on other things. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:08:27 
Yeah. Okay. That is so interesting. Thank you. And so what about the COVID pandemic? Um, how has that had an effect on your day-to-day operations?

Jaime Eltit 00:08:36 
Yeah. So I would say overall, it's hard to say it's had a positive effect on the day-to-day operations. Um, especially, you know, given the suffering that it caused, you know, people worldwide, but I, I think there's a silver lining to the pandemic is that it opened people's eyes as to the necessity of optimising and automating some of the labourers, right? 

And Um, how important it is to have systems in place in case, you know, resources become limited such as when the pandemic hit. Definitely. With farm labour, you're, you're talking about, you know, people working closely together in the same environment whether it's on a harvest share on a weeding crew.

And obviously that was impossible during the pandemic, um, transportation of, of such people also became very difficult during the pandemic. So I think it definitely opened some people's eyes as to the, the value of having alternate resources. When, when an event like this happened. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:09:29 
Yeah, absolutely. All right. Well, when it comes to food loss and sustainability, what's the biggest area in your role that you're most curious about right now?

Jaime Eltit 00:09:37 
Yeah. I would say certainly how we can scale our technology to other crops and commodities. Our goal is for our products application to be as wide and large as possible. So, you know, we're constantly looking at other regions and other number of crops that we feel we can help growers in. Um, so there is something that we're constantly researching. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:09:56 
Awesome. All right. And so on the back of my last question, is there any type of innovation in the industry right now that you're currently very excited about? 

Jaime Eltit 00:10:03 
Yeah. I mean, I think overall there's a lot to be excited about as automation and technology keep evolving. Um, I think there's some, some, some really interesting things happening out there with, with some of the technology that's, you know, that you're seeing with carbon sequestration and things like that.

I think it's still early to tell if it's, um, You know, if it's the real deal, but I think if you look at what you know, Terraton Initiative is doing, um, Indigo Ag, for example, in which they're trying to sequester a trillion, tons of carbon from the atmosphere to bring levels to a pre-industrial revolution levels is, is very interesting. 

Um, like I said, I think some of those things still need to be validated and we're in the early days. Um, but that's definitely something that, uh, that could be a game-changer, uh, to, undoing some of the damage that we've done in the last century or so.

And then you have to look at harvesting. Um, harvesting automation is something that is evolving. Um, it's, it's taken time, but it's. It's something to keep an eye out for as that's where a lot of the labour shortage issues are affecting, growers, shippers and producers. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:11:10 
Yeah, of course. And I'm just a bonus question in terms of your product, what's the most exciting accomplishment that you and your team have been able to do in terms of helping maybe automate processes? Are there any interesting statistics or case studies that you currently have out there?

Jaime Eltit 00:11:24 
Yeah. again, I'll go back to how dynamic our product is. You know, the fact that we've been able to localise a stem on various plant types, varieties and, and, and, and things from celery to broccoli to lettuces. I think another thing too is, you know, how we've been able to look at the ways in which we can leverage data to help growers make better decisions while at the same time, you know, reducing inputs and not just, you know, relying on, on, on data points, but at the same time, executing an actionable tasks such as weeding is something that, uh, that, yeah, we're, we're pretty proud of. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:12:01 
Amazing. And what is something that you wish you would've known when you began your career? 

Jaime Eltit 00:12:05 
Uh, so I, I can't say I have many regrets in that regard, um, because you know, every, everything works out as it should and it's led to here, but I think if I could go back in time and, you know, given myself some advice, when I was younger, right out of college, it would have been to, to of been a better listener. Um, especially in the early years. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:12:25 
Oh, I like that. And, and why listening specifically?

Jaime Eltit 00:12:28  
I think it's a very difficult skill to master. Um, that's why there's probably so many written books about it, but it's probably one of the most important skills when it comes to learning. And I think, uh, yeah, 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:12:40 
Okay. And so as we come to a close, I just wanted to ask, what is the number one takeaway that you really want our listeners to absorb from this episode?

Jaime Eltit 00:12:48 
Well, let's see. Um, I think, you know, food production can be expensive, uh, especially if done in a way that kind of meets sustainability standards and regulations. So I think one really important thing to kind of drive home is that. Even though, you know, vegetables, fruits and things like that can be, can be a little bit more expensive than other foodstuffs.

I think that it's important for consumers to understand, you know, that by supporting the fresh products industry, you're, you're also supporting a more sustainable future. Um, yeah, the, the. The produce industry in the United States is, you know, very regulated.

It takes a lot of work to adhere to these regulations and, and, and growers, producers are stewards of the land. And, and so yeah, by, by supporting the, this industry, you're also, you know, uh, doing good for the environment. 

Alex Mospanyuk 00:13:35 
That's so great. Well, Jaime thank you so, so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. 

Jaime Eltit 00:13:40 
Absolutely. Thanks for having me Alex.

Alex Mospanyuk 00:13:42
Well, that's all for today's episode of "Let's Talk Farm to Fork". Thanks for listening, and thank you Jaime Eltit for joining me today. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode, and don't forget to leave a review and share it with your friends. 

So until next time you've been listening to "Let's Talk Farm to Fork", a PostHarvest podcast.

Voiceover 00:13:57
We appreciate you joining us for this episode of let's talk, farm to fork, be sure to rate, review and subscribe. Also, if you would like to learn more about how you can practically play your part in maximising fruit and vegetable supplies, whether you're a supplier, consumer, or anyone in between the farm to fork journey, visit PostHarvest.Com and try out their free online course library today.