Robotics are solving water, fertilizer, labor challenges for California agriculture

Apr 12, 2022

Global event in Fresno aims to drive ag robotics forward Oct. 18-20, 2022

California agriculture is under tremendous threat from drought, climate impacts and labor scarcity. New robotics and automation solutions are addressing these challenges. To accelerate this innovation to market, a team of partners in California and the International Forum of Agricultural Robotics (FIRA), the leading event in agricultural robotics, will launch FIRA USA in Fresno, California, Oct. 18-20 to provide autonomous systems and robots to California and North America growers.

Jointly organized between the French association GOFAR, the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Western Growers Association and the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Initiative, FIRA USA 2022 will bring together specialty crop growers, robot manufacturers, industry members, academics, technologists, startups and investors for three days of problem-solving, decision making and planning.

Since 2016, FIRA has primarily hosted its flagship event in Toulouse, France. According to FIRA co-directors Maialen Cazenave and Gwendoline Legrand, “The expert event decided to join forces with local players to launch the first edition abroad: FIRA USA was born.”

An event focused on autonomous solutions for specialty crops

Specialty crops have much to gain from ag robotics and automation. Specialty crops, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture,” tend to be more labor intensive to produce and pick, and require more sophisticated technological solutions.

Walt Duflock, Western Growers vice president of innovation, is working to advance the pace of innovation in this sector through the Global Harvest Automation Initiative, which will be presented atFIRAUSA 2022. One of the initiative's goals is to automate 50% of specialty crop harvest in the next 10 years.

FIRA USA to debut in Fresno

The event site is significant for a number of reasons. Fresno is part of California's fertile San Joaquin Valley, a hub for specialty crop growers. The Golden State also provides a prime location for companies interested in tapping into a highly profitable agriculture market—one that produces more than 400 commodities and two-thirds of the total fruits and nuts crops in the United States. California farmers and ranchers earned $49.1 billion in cash receipts for their output in 2020 alone.

“We really wanted to bring a FIRA event to the U.S. because the U.S. market for specialty crops is a key agriculture industry entry point for ag tech startups, so it makes perfect sense to have this event right in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley,” says Duflock. “FIRA USA organizes the entire specialty crop community – educators, commercialization folks, startup companies, and large and small growers—and puts the entire event focus on specialty crop automation for three days.”

From research to robots in fields: A rich three-day agenda

To help ensure the success of this first-time event, FIRA partnered with Gabriel Youtsey, chief innovation officer at University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“FIRA USA is designed for developing practical, real-world solutions, which is the mission of UC ANR,” Youtsey said. “I'm thrilled to advance the ag robotics and automation ecosystem in the Central Valley through this event. Our overall goal is to accelerate the pace of innovation and industry adoption of new technologies that create sustainable growth and profitability of our agriculture industry.”

To keep the event focused on actionable outcomes, FIRA USA is structured to maximize opportunities for networking, learning and collaboration. Each of the three days has a theme: research and development, technology and business day and demonstration.

Oct. 18: The Research & Development Day 

The R&D day will bring hundreds of scientists and students together.

This academic day will provide the opportunity for new agricultural technologists in universities around the country that are winning some of the new artificial intelligence grants for agricultural automation to present their projects.

By bringing this academic community together face-to-face in Fresno, FIRA USA aims to set priorities and focus on solving some pain points.

Oct. 19: The Technology & Business Day 

With a full exposition zone, panel discussions, breakout sessions and networking times, the second day will bring together the autonomous solutions and end-users.

FIRA USA will engage growers in the conversation to make it real and make presentations more relevant for grower audiences.

In the panel discussions, breakout sessions and roundtables, the participants will build on several big-picture themes: understanding specific specialty crops, introducing different levels of automation and smart technologies, optimizing mechanization, prioritizing value for growers of all sizes, tackling labor shortage, addressing climate-smart objectives, determining appropriate ownership and maintenance models, and more.

Oct. 20: The Demo Day 

On the third day, FIRA USA will host in-field robot demos at the California State University, Fresno campus farm.

o   Harvesting, weeding, seeding, thinning and planting robots;

o   Irrigation automation and data analytics solutions;

o   Focus on field crops, fruits & vegetables and vineyards

FIRA USA will run from October 18 -20, 2022, at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center in California. The event is organized by FIRA; GOFAR; Western Growers; University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources; Fresno State, Jordan College of Agriculture Sciences and Technology; and Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation.

To learn more about this upcoming event, visit 



The GOFAR non-profit organization undertakes to promote and develop the agricultural robotics sector at international level. GOFAR meets the increasing need for visibility and networking of the agricultural robotics sector.

GOFAR, therefore, aims to organize the meeting between the relevant stakeholders, and to support them by taking an active part in the development of the agricultural robotics market hence implementing a promotional campaign of international scale (organization of events, production of actions of communication and participation of trade fairs in France and abroad).

The GOFAR association focuses its activity on four main work streams:

  • Organizing annually the International Forum of Agricultural Robotics (FIRA), both Online and in-person in Toulouse (France);
  • Setting up international collaborations;
  • Development of an information platform around the Agricultural Robotics sector –;
  • Creation and animation of a network of leading international experts in agricultural robotics.


University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources connects the power of UC science and technology in agriculture and natural resources with industry and communities to improve the lives of all Californians.

Our programs focus on solving priority problems that engage scientists, students and industry in integrated teams to work on complex issues.

ANR's field innovation centers located in important California agriculture regions, support research and education. Research projects deliver the highest-quality science to growers, industry and land managers.


Western Growers Association

Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. Our members and their workers provide over half the nation's fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including nearly half of America's fresh organic produce. Some members also farm throughout the U.S. and in other countries, so people have year-round access to nutritious food. For generations, we have provided variety and healthy choices to consumers.

Websites: and 

Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation Initiative

The Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation Initiative seeks to develop world-recognized, “ClimateSmart Food and Agriculture Systems” that provide solutions to economic and environmental challenges within the Central Valley. These solutions will result in both technology that can be exported to solve global food production challenges and increased support for local and regional food systems, including organic production practices and small-scale and socially disadvantaged farmers. F3 champions sustainable food systems that meet human, and ecosystem needs, facilitated by innovation in technologies that are affordable, appropriately scaled and accessible to local farmers and food businesses, with applications for the global farming community.

F3 simultaneously advances workforce training and educational opportunities for local farm and food system workers to ensure just and equitable innovation processes and technology adoption. F3 is one element of the comprehensive Fresno DRIVE investment plan, a ten-year, community-led vitality strategy for inclusive and sustainable economic development in the Greater Fresno Region.

Media Contacts

GOFAR: Gwendoline Legrand –

Western Growers: Ann Donahue -

Special thanks to our premium partners: VARTA, Blue White Robotics and Farwest Equipment Dealers Association


By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach