- Author: Tyler Ash
On Jan. 30, 2018, another seed was planted for the future of Northern California's agriculture industry. That seed was a commitment to innovation and new technologies in a region where the primary economic driver is agriculture.
Around 200 people, including farmers, ag innovators and venture capitalists, attended an event in Woodland titled “Creating Northern California's Ag Innovation Hub,” presented by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, AgStart, The Food Front and the City of Woodland.
Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources, gave the keynote speech and talked about the importance of synergy between agriculture, innovation and technology in California, while discussing 21st century challenges, such as rural broadband connectivity, going forward.
“Entrepreneurship in our rural areas is far greater than in our urban areas,” Humiston said on ag tech innovation.
She urged ag innovators to use UC institutions and programs, including the UC Integrated Pest Management Program, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, the Agricultural Issues Center, UC Informatics and GIS, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, California 4-H, California Naturalist, the UC Master Gardener Program, the UC Master Food Preserver Program, the California Institute for Water Resources, the UC Nutrition Policy Institute, the UC Cooperative Extension system, the UC Research Extension Center system, Apps for Ag, along with all of the UC campuses.
There were two panel discussions during the event, both of which were moderated by Lon Hatamiya of The Hatamiya Group.
The first panel focused on agriculture in the global and statewide perspective. Panelists included Gabe Youtsey of UC ANR, Seana Day of Better Food Ventures and The Mixing Bowl Hub, Megan Nunes of Vinsight and John Selep of AgStart.
“One of the key innovations that needs to happen is marrying the ‘strange bedfellows' of data science and the grower and ag community,” said Youtsey, UC ANR's chief innovation officer.
He talked about thinking outside the box on public and private partnerships to create a better ecosystem for collaboration in the California ag tech community. Youtsey also noted that rural broadband connectivity was the limiting factor to bridging the gap between the Central Valley and Silicon Valley, and affirmed that UC ANR's Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship (VINE) was working hard to address this.
“We have the opportunity here to create a world-class innovation hub that will be second-to-none,” he said.
Nunes of Vinsight, a software for winegrowers, stated that “UC Davis research is kind of the first ‘open source' for ag tech and innovation.”
The second panel focused on the regional and local perspective of agriculture. The panelists were Justin Siegel of the UC Davis Genome Center, Frank Muller of Muller Ranch, Dennis Donohue of Western Growers, and Ken Hiatt of the City of Woodland and The Food Front.
Siegel indicated that the tech industry is beginning to hit a steady state now and doesn't have as much exponential growth as before, but there are still huge numbers of entrepreneurs flooding into it.
“Ag tech needs to capitalize on educating them about ag,” he said.
Muller of Muller Ranch, a Yolo County diversified farm consisting of several thousand acres, touched on the importance of technology in agriculture.
“For me, ag tech is finding new ways to produce more with less and to do it more sustainably,” he said.
Woodland officials have already identified a 351-acre site for a mixed-use research park about eight miles north of UC Davis, where both commercial and residential development will be modeled after other successful tech parks near research universities in California. The only difference will be that this one will be focused on agricultural technology and will provide a place for new companies to incubate, grow, collaborate and prosper.
Related reading about creating Northern California's Ag Innovation Hub:
Farmers, financiers, people from government agencies and nonprofit organizations who work with UC Cooperative Extension advisors, as well as beginning farmers seeking to contact their local UCCE advisors visited the UC ANR exhibit at the EcoFarm Conference Jan. 24-27 at Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove.
Marketing assistant Tyler Ash apprised visitors perusing the racks of UC ANR publications of the resources available in their home counties and online.
Nearby, Alda Pires, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, and Ph.D. candidate Laura Patterson had their own booth to meet people raising small livestock and discuss their research projects. Patterson is studying pigs raised outdoors and Pires studies farming systems using raw manure as fertilizer.
“Sow Good” was the theme of the 38th annual EcoFarm Conference, which focused on regenerative agriculture.
Outside the exhibit tent, breakout sessions enlightened participants on dozens of topics from soil health to organic production practices to marketing. Rachael Long, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Yolo County, was one of three panelists discussing the benefits of hedgerows. Because hedgerows provide habitat for beneficial insects, fewer insecticide sprays are needed for adjacent tomato fields, according to her study. Long said the hedgerows saved growers $260 per field per year.
For backyard gardeners and urban growers, Rob Bennaton, UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture advisor in the Bay Area, gave a talk on improving soil quality for growing food in urban areas. Before planting food crops in an urban plot, Bennaton advised the audience members to test the soil for contaminants such as lead, arsenic, chromium and mercury and to map where they sample the soil.
After listening to participants in one session discuss the efficacy of cats for rodent control – orange tabby cats were deemed most effective – one attendee remarked that meeting new people at events such as EcoFarm helps reveal opportunities for UC ANR outreach.
Ag Day at the Capitol was held in Sacramento on March 22. On Monday, March 20, Lucas Frerichs, Tyler Ash, Pam Kan-Rice and Meredith Turner of UC State Government Relations, visited the offices of all 120 legislators and the governor and lieutenant governor to invite them to visit the UC ANR booth at Ag Day. They handed out bags of UC-developed "Tango" mandarins, explaining that the seedless, easy-to-peel citrus variety is one of many California crops developed with UC ANR research.
We'll have more coverage of Ag Day at the Capitol in the next ANR Report.
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