Westmont Magazine A Farmer Embraces Technology and Opera

by Sharon Savely Odegaard ’72 

As a fourth-generation farmer, Zach Sheely ’04 carries on the family tradition while taking advantage of technology geared to agriculture. His company, Agworld, focuses on software that guides every aspect of growing crops. Data boosts age-old practices, helping plan crops, formulate budgets and track activities. For example, Zach works with software that tracks tillage, pruning, weeding and pest control. Now that Semios has acquired Agworld, Zach has more resources to help farmers raise crops as efficiently as possible.

Semios has developed hardware that monitors fields. “An array of sensors in a field — four or five per acre — helps farmers plan and budget for weather, fertilizer and crop protection,” Zach says. “The software and hardware help make farming profitable.”

His father and brother monitor the day-to-day management of the family farm, just south of Fresno, California. On 8,500 acres, the Sheely family cultivates pistachios, cotton, tomatoes, wheat and wine grapes. His grandfather and great-grandfather farmed in Arizona, growing wheat and cotton. Zach’s dad started the farm in California, introducing pistachios when Zach was in eighth grade and adding wine grapes a few years later.

A biology major at Westmont, Zach studied how to apply chemistry and biology to agriculture. He also sang with the Westmont College Choir and studied opera after college. “I found the choir energizing — it was fun,” he says. His sophomore year, he started an opera club, and about 70 students joined. The group traveled to Los Angeles every semester to see an opera.

Zach has performed major roles in several operas, including the lead in “Carmen” recently. Traveling to participate in these productions has kept him from hands-on farming. But technology has allowed him to work with the data while on the road, which led him to start Agworld.

His well-rounded education inspired Zach to pursue his various interests. He speaks highly of his science classes at Westmont and treasures what he learned in Biblical studies, music and other fields. “Students interacted with the faculty in a unique way,” he says. “I was lucky to get to know a lot of fellow students who went on to become doctors, attorneys, engineers and artists. We’ve remained friends, and I value these relationships long after we all graduated.”

The legacy of agriculture in California is rich, and Zach’s company contributes to this industry. “California produces food and fiber; pistachios and cotton, for example. The state grows some of the best cotton in the world – pima cotton.” He gets excited about autonomous tractors and the latest in irrigation.

Zach married a fellow Westmont biology major, Dana Faw Sheely ’04, who went to medical school and now holds a facul­ty position at UC Davis in the fellowship program for endocrinology studies. They’re raising three young girls. His family, his work with Agworld, and his opera singing keep Zach busy.