Alumna Brings Entrepreneurship to Agriculture

by Talya Sanders, USF News

Jacqui Lopez ’17 is a 10th generation family farmer who is using technology to help other family farmers.

Jacqui Lopez ’17

Two years after graduating from USF, she started Advance Ag, a farm and plant management system that consolidates the growers’ existing and new farm technology so the farms can run more efficiently.

With the tool, farmers can synchronize their systems in one platform, Lopez said. “Growers can plug in what they already have, such as a weather station, watering system, harvester, or tractor, and add more useful tools as they go.”

Advance Ag is “democratizing farm and plant management tools for the world’s growers,” she said. “We help family farms, and nearly 89 percent of U.S. farms are small-scale family farms.”

Lopez pursued a degree in management at USF to complement her family’s hands-on knowledge as farmers. Her organizational leadership class, and another called Moving Outside Your Comfort Zone, validated her commitment to entrepreneurship and empowered her to pursue her ideas, she said.

After USF, Lopez followed in her grandfather’s footsteps as an innovator — he was a NASA engineer who worked on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon — and studied aviation and aerospace technology. As a flight test engineer at a startup, she kept thinking about how farmers could use the aerial robotics she was working on to collect plant health and field data.

She asked herself, “What are some ways that I can give back and help my community?” In 2019 she started Advance Ag, which was recently featured in Comstock's Magazine as startup of the month.

Her company helps smaller producers increase their yields as much as 20 percent, she said, and it also tackles various other agricultural challenges while helping the environment. Advance Ag is addressing how agriculture technology can be integrated into the United Nations’ initiative to have zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

While at USF, she learned about the Jesuit concept of cura personalis — a framework for educating and caring for the whole person — and she has built it into the core of her business.

“It all stems from farm culture and my Native American heritage, where we look out for each other,” Lopez said. “USF reminded me to be humble, be a caretaker of the earth, and do what I can to help others. At Advance Ag, we reconnect with ourselves, our purpose, and our mission. When we follow cura personalis, it’ll take us where we need to be.”

She added, “The people who grow food benefit firsthand from Advance Ag, but it reaches far beyond them. It’s a circular effect — if they have abundance, it is shared with the rest of us.”