UC ANR receives Innovations in Networking Award for Broadband Applications

Feb 28, 2018

The nonprofit organization CENIC has awarded the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources its 2018 Innovations in Networking Award for Broadband Applications. The award recognizes work to extend high-speed broadband to University of California researchers in rural communities across California by connecting UC ANR sites to the California Research and Education Network (CalREN).

“The internet at Kearney was like a drinking straw delivering and retrieving information, when what we needed was a fire hose,” said Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer for UC ANR. “High-speed, broadband Internet at our Kearney Research and Extension Center, just south of Fresno, will allow UC ANR to lead innovative, on-farm agriculture technology research and extension for UC in the Central Valley. It will allow UC researchers to share big data and big computing with colleagues at campuses and globally.“

Project leaders being recognized include Tolgay Kizilelma, chief information security officer; Tu Tran, associate vice president for business operations; and Youtsey. 

Until now, UC ANR facilities have been hamstrung by poor Internet connectivity, hindering their ability to support campus-based researchers and UC Cooperative Extension scientists who are engaged with community and industry partners to ensure that California has healthy food systems, environments and communities.

Extending from the Oregon border in the north, through the Sierra foothills and Central Valley, along the Pacific Coast and south to the Mexican border, UC ANR's research and extension facilities are situated among California's rich and unique agricultural and natural resources. This allows for the application of scientific research to regional challenges and issues. Today, nearly all research and data analysis involves remote collaboration. To work effectively and efficiently on multi-institutional projects, researchers depend heavily on high-speed networks and access to large data sets and computing resources. The high-speed broadband connection also provides a new way for Cooperative Extension advisors to collaborate with farmers, naturalists and others in these rural regions.

In 2016, CENIC began working with UC ANR to connect its nine research and extension centers to CalREN, equipping them with internet speeds comparable to those found on UC campuses. For example, the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center in Mendocino County and the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Imperial County are both connected at 500 Mbps, five times their previous level of connectivity.

Due to the remote location of most of these facilities, the work involved in identifying suitable pathways for connections between each site and the CalREN network has been extensive. Engineers from CENIC and UC ANR collaborated on network design, deployment, and troubleshooting to equip these facilities with the high-speed internet they need. High-speed connectivity with significant bandwidth now allows researchers to use equipment like infrared cameras to collect data on how crops respond to heat, among many other electronic tools. Farmers who are unable to visit the Research and Extension Centers can now connect virtually and tune in to real-time video streams, gaining access to the latest knowledge.

In addition to the Research and Extension Centers, the Citrus Clonal Protection Program in Riverside is now connected to CalREN. Elkus Ranch, the environmental education center for Bay Area youths, the UC ANR administrative offices in Davis and 30 UC Cooperative Extension sites are in the process of being connected.

“You can't do big data with dial-up Internet speed,” said Jeffery Dahlberg, director of Kearney Research and Extension Center. “Before this upgrade, our internet was slower than my home internet speeds. Now we have speeds more like you will find on UC campuses.”

Dahlberg noted that high-speed internet will become a powerful research tool allowing researchers to collect and share data in real-time. “For instance, a researcher can use an infrared camera in a field collecting readings to determine how a crop responds to heat as it changes throughout the day, but even this modest instrument needs significant bandwidth,” he said. “We now have the bandwidth to do that.”

“The impact of these newly established broadband connections is significant,” said Louis Fox, president and CEO of CENIC. “UC ANR researchers and educators can now enhance and share the creation, development, and application of knowledge in agricultural, natural and human resources, bringing practical, science-based answers to Californians and California industry.”

Innovations in Networking Awards are presented each year by CENIC to highlight the exemplary innovations that leverage ultra-high bandwidth networking, particularly where those innovations have the potential to transform the ways in which instruction and research are conducted or where they further the deployment of broadband in underserved areas.


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