YF&R: Agricultural consultant builds toward farm ownership

Issue Date: February 26, 2020
By Christine Souza
He works now in agricultural technology, and Sacramento County Young Farmers and Ranchers member Josh Dowell says he hopes eventually to operate a farm of his own.
Photo/Christine Souza

As he pursues a career in agricultural technology, Josh Dowell says he believes his consulting work will allow him to build capital he can use to purchase land he can farm.

"It's difficult to get into farming," said Dowell, who is based in Sacramento County as an account manager for Phytech, a company that monitors plant growth and provides farmers with irrigation-efficiency data through web and mobile applications. "If you want to establish an almond orchard in the valley, you're looking at $30,000 an acre just to buy the land—and that's not the trees, irrigation system, ripping and other cultural costs. And then you're not going to make money for five years because you've got to wait for a crop to show up, so that is very difficult to do."

A native of Madera County, Dowell grew up on a dairy in Chowchilla. He said his family sold the dairy in 2007 and ultimately exited farming. Knowing that the family would no longer be directly involved in agriculture, Dowell said he changed his animal science focus of study. He graduated from California State University, Fresno, in 2017 with degrees in agriculture communications and entrepreneurship, which he thought would better serve him in the future.

"The beginning of my college years was when we sold the dairy and exited farming. I was approached by a professor at Fresno State who had a friend in Silicon Valley looking for young people to accept the challenge to work in the tech space, so I definitely got engaged," Dowell said.

Working with growers who farm 500 acres or more, Dowell said Phytech uses sensors that measure the expansion and contraction of a tree trunk or a plant stem, "which is a direct indicator of what the water is doing in the tree."

"We'll give you an irrigation recommendation based off of the data," he said. "If the tree isn't able to get enough water back into its system, it will go into what is called negative growth, where the tree is not actually continuing to push forward, set fruit and grow, or the trees are not stressed and doing great. This is critical information and what farmers want to know."

Irrigation efficiency information, Dowell said, will become more important in coming years as farmers begin to negotiate groundwater sustainability plans under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

"(At Phytech) we could create a scenario where a grower could learn exactly how much water they need and if they're already applying more, they could get a savings," Dowell said.

Before his role at Phytech, Dowell spent two years working at another ag tech firm and helped a friend who was considering running for the U.S. Congress.

As a member of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers, Dowell won the California Farm Bureau Federation YF&R Discussion Meet last December. In January, he represented California at the American Farm Bureau Federation Open Discussion Meet during the AFBF Annual Convention in Austin, Texas.

Dowell noted that many of his friends have moved out of California, but said, "There's not another place in the United States that can do what we (farmers) can do. Even as we face regulations, at the end of the day, farmers in California will still be doing what we're doing, and we will figure it out."

One of the benefits of participating in YF&R, Dowell said, is the program offers a network of people statewide that serves as a support system for others in agriculture.

"When I'm 65 years old, I want to be sitting on a porch looking out at the farmland the same way that my great-grandfather did, because I know that I'm seeing with my own two eyes what I've done that has made my family successful; I just think it's a really beautiful thing," Dowell said.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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