Tom Shapland

Tom Shapland: Measure by Measure

As a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Viticulture & Enology, Tom Shapland’s project on surface renewal measurements of daily crop water use was funded through SATIC’s prototype seed fund program. Today Shapland is co-founder and CEO of Tule Technologies Inc., which is developing a sensor-based monitoring system that allows growers to use water more efficiently when irrigating their fields.This interview was conducted in 2013, while Shapland was at UC Davis.

“While an undergraduate in the Department of Viticulture & Enology, I learned that water is the most important input for competing in the global table grape and wine industry. When and how much water the grower applies to the vineyard determines the value of the crop and wine. Growers have never had a way to measure how much water evaporated from their vineyards, so they had to make educated guesses about how much to irrigate.

“Extension Specialist Rick Snyder and Professor Kyaw Tha Paw U told me about an inexpensive technology they had developed (surface renewal) that could measure crop water use over a broad area, but it required calibration against very expensive scientific instruments. In my Ph.D. work, I worked with Andrew McElrone, Rick Snyder, and Kyaw Tha Paw U to figure out how to avoid the calibration requirement.”

What is important about your project—and where do you hope to take it?

Water shortages are among the most dangerous crisis we will face in this century. There will be less reliable fresh water for many more people and for the agriculture that feeds them. I hope to see our technology, surface renewal, help growers make irrigation decisions in every field in all crops throughout California and beyond.

What are you most passionate about in your research/work?

I am most passionate about solving problems that will allow for future generation to have as many or more opportunities than we have been given. Science and business are two very different paradigms for addressing problems. Science is a method for discovering the truth behind the mysteries we experience daily. Business is a vehicle for getting those truths out into the world so people can use the knowledge to make a difference.

How will the seed funding help you advance your project and move it closer to market?

All startups need a strong network to succeed. I have been fortunate to be a part of the SATIC program and SARTA AgStart. Both programs have introduced me to the right people to build my network. The funding has helped cover the costs of traveling to meet with people to build my network.

This project is funded by a grant from the Economic Development Administration’s i6 Challenge under the Sacramento Region Clean AgTech Innovation Center Development Project, Award No. 07 79 06923. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendation are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Agency or the U.S Department of Commerce .