A Holistic View of Technology
On-farm technology is found in virtually every successful farming operation in California today, but Grow West® PCA Matt Lagorio says the true innovation happens when you look at all the tools holistically. Based in Yuba City, Lagorio is piloting a program, along with fellow Grow West PCA Chad Hekel, utilizing satellite imagery and drones to identify areas of need in customers’ orchards and fields.
He evaluates normalized difference vegetation index data (NDVI) with aerial drone scouting and combines that with a digital ground scouting program. NDVI quantifies vegetation by measuring the difference between near-infrared (which vegetation strongly reflects) and red light (which vegetation absorbs). Looking at NDVI imagery allows Lagorio to identify vigorous and stressed areas in customers’ fields.
“Most PCAs are using some level of technology on a daily basis. But combining NDVI imagery, digital scouting, and drones is pretty unique. I like to look at everything holistically – how can I use them together?” says Lagorio. “I’m able to be really specific in my fertility, pest management, irrigation and cultural recommendations because I can zero in on the highly vigorous and stressed areas in orchards and fields. I can view the entire field from 400 feet up, and all the way down to the top of a single tree or plant. It allows me to get the view I want of a flower or nutlet 50 feet in the air. Things we just can’t see very well from the ground.”
Like many Grow West customers, Lagorio’s clients are growing a diverse variety of tree and field crops, including walnuts, canning peaches, dried prunes, almonds, sun flowers, rice, alfalfa and fresh market melons. But even with such diversity of crops, Lagorio’s approach to technology works well across the board in scouting.
In fresh market melons, he can use the drone to identify differences in growth and vigor, evaluate nutrient deficiencies and pest development, and disease pressures – all of which compromise growth of the melon plant. With that information, Lagorio is able to make solid management recommendations.
In orchards, he is able to view both the entire orchard and individual trees from every angle, analyzing the development of flowers, nutlets, leaves, and shoot growth. This perspective allows Lagorio to time chemical applications with critical precision.
“When I show up at a customer’s farm, the NDVI gives me a snapshot of the key areas that need to be evaluated. Following up with the drone allows me to get a real-time visual image from above that can help confirm that there’s an issue that needs correction,” says Lagorio.
Lagorio also a certified crop advisor (CCA) and specializes in helping his customers navigate the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program. He and his fellow Grow West CCA colleagues are working with growers to prepare nitrogen management plans, submit farm evaluations and nitrogen management plan summary reports, which are then submitted back to local water board coalitions. The data collection and reporting process can be burdensome for growers, but Lagorio says it’s part of his job to help ease the burden. When a grower in his area is audited by the water board, Lagorio is there to help them navigate the farm inspection process.
While he has a passion for early adoption of technology and finding new ways to utilize it, Lagorio says the most interesting and gratifying part of his job as a Grow West PCA is helping his customers solve problems on their operations. Partnering with his customers to help them improve their operations is a fascinating process. The relationships and trust formed during this process is deeply valued.
“You can go in to see a grower who may have a problem that they don’t even realize yet. And I can evaluate that, make my recommendation and solve the problem,” says Lagorio. “That process is something my customers do really appreciate, and those relationships are the biggest part of the job.”