- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
- Author: Mike Hsu
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
The most recent group of scientists and educators hired by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources includes several firsts, including a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in water equity at UCLA and a UC Cooperative Extension Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community development advisor for the Bay Area.
To better serve Spanish-speaking Californians, UC ANR also added a communication specialist to its News and Information Outreach in Spanish unit.
Officially established in 1914, UC Cooperative Extension's researchers work directly with community members to apply research-based information to improve the lives and livelihoods of Californians. Increased funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature has enabled UC ANR to expand the number of experts working in communities across the entire breadth of the state, from Siskiyou to San Diego counties.
The newly hired UC Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors bring expertise in nutrition, health impacts of climate change, youth development, dairy science, economics, weed management and pest management.
To see a list of UC Cooperative Extension advisors who have joined in the past few months, visit https://ucanr.edu/About/DirectorySearch/Recent_Hires. The most recently hired scientists are introduced below.
Edith de Guzman joined UC ANR Sept. 1 as a UC Cooperative Extension water equity and adaptation policy specialist. She is the first UCCE specialist to be based at UCLA.
Her work investigates best practices for the sustainable transformation of the Los Angeles region and beyond, and has included research, demonstration projects, public policy and planning in the areas of water management, climate adaptation, heat mitigation and urban forestry. She tackles these topics through the lenses of urban planning, public health, behavioral sciences, biophysical sciences and public policy.
She co-founded and directs the Los Angeles Urban Cooling Collaborative, a multisectoral partnership working to alleviate the public health risks of extreme heat. Their research has found that one in four lives currently lost to extreme heat could be saved if L.A.'s land cover had more trees and its built surfaces were more reflective, particularly where low-income communities and communities of color live and work.
From 2014 to 2020, de Guzman served as director of research at the Los Angeles-based organization TreePeople. Her projects at the nonprofit included the City of Los Angeles Stormwater Capture Master Plan; facilitating the creation of a Greening Plan with the Inglewood and Lennox communities; bringing to fruition multiple urban water-management demonstration projects; and leading an extensive study tour of Australia's response to its historic Millennium Drought and gleaning lessons for California. She also produced the first interactive, high-resolution public map and spatial analysis of Los Angeles County's urban forest.
Having completed all of her studies at UCLA, de Guzman holds a Ph.D. in environment and sustainability, a master's degree in urban planning and a bachelor's degree in history and art history.
Learn more about her research advancing climate resilience and access to clean water and sustainable resources in a Q&A at https://innovation.luskin.ucla.edu/2023/07/31/welcome-to-our-new-water-equity-and-adaptation-policy-expert-edith-de-guzman.
De Guzman is based at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation in Los Angeles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @edithbdeguzman on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Cristina Murillo-Barrick transitioned into a new UCCE position on June 1 as the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community development advisor serving Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.
Murillo-Barrick, who had worked as UCCE academic coordinator focused on planning grants for Fresno, Merced, Madera and Tulare counties since 2021, described her new role as “more holistic,” prioritizing historically marginalized communities. Murillo-Barrick will be identifying opportunities to leverage the strengths of BIPOC communities.
In addition to conducting a needs assessment, Murillo-Barrick is planning to form a language access group at ANR – something she is very passionate about. This group will focus on identifying language barriers and best practices by engaging programs like CalFresh Healthy Living, UC and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program that have expertise conducting multilingual programs throughout California. For example, they may recommend increasing accessibility using infographics and/or video, both of which can be translated into different languages and/or dialects.
The realm of diversity, equity and inclusion is not new to Murillo-Barrick, who has worked in outdoor education spaces, serving historically underserved communities of color. “I worked in DEI before it was considered ‘cool,'” she said.
“I have a lot of influence over program development in this role,” said Murillo-Barrick, who is fluent in Spanish. “So, my goal as an advisor is really focused on the community engagement part,” she added.
Murillo-Barrick earned a master's degree in geography and community development and a bachelor's degree in Spanish and international relations at UC Davis. During graduate school, she studied conservation issues in Nicaragua, as well as in her homeland, Costa Rica.
Murillo-Barrick is based out of the UCCE office in Hayward and can be reached at email@example.com.
Diana Cervantes joined UC ANR on Sept. 5 as the new broadcast communication specialist for News and Information Outreach in Spanish, or NOS.
Cervantes brings over 25 years of experience as a journalist serving the Spanish-speaking community in Southern California to help fulfill the NOS mission of disseminating information to California's Spanish-speaking community.
Before joining NOS, Cervantes was an editor for El Latino, the most widely circulated Spanish-language newspaper in San Diego County. She participated in the creation of the El Latino website and spearheaded the newspaper's digital platform migration.
Her professional journey includes working as a reporter for La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the nation, as well as a reporter for La Prensa/The Press Enterprise in Riverside.
She is bicultural and bilingual, qualities that uniquely equip her to understand the needs and nuances of the immigrant community in this country.
Cervantes holds a bachelor's degree in communication sciences with a minor in written journalism from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.
"I am very happy for the opportunity to participate in the valuable work that UC ANR does to bring knowledge to the Hispanic community," Cervantes said.
Cervantes is based at the UC ANR office in Riverside and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Hill joined UCCE on Aug. 14 as a weed science and agronomy advisor in Tehama, Shasta and Glenn counties.
In his new role, Hill will be exploring safe and effective weed-management options for a range of cropping systems in the northern Sacramento Valley. He also will be advising on production of agronomic crops to support growers who are looking for ways to diversify their farming operations.
When the UC Master Gardener Program gets established in Tehama County, Hill will provide academic oversight for the local program.
“I have been very fortunate to have a wide background of experience in agricultural research and I intend to draw on that as much as I can as a UCCE advisor,” Hill said. “I also intend to draw on the diverse array of resources and expertise that UC ANR has to offer to support my research and extension programs, as well as the Master Gardener program. I am looking forward to making consistent progress toward more sustainable food systems as a member of the UC ANR team.”
Before joining UC ANR, Hill worked for the Oregon State University Extension Service, the California processing tomato industry, and the Joint Genome Institute. At OSU, he managed research operations and field plantings at the research farm for 3.5 years, while learning weed science. He worked on weed control and herbicide safety projects in hazelnuts, hops, caneberries, cranberries, blueberries, ornamental trees and shrubs, apples, cherries, pears, wine grapes and Christmas trees.
Hill earned a master's degree in plant breeding and genetics from Oregon State University, where he studied the genetics of self-incompatibility in hazelnuts. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.
“I was born and raised in Stanislaus County,” Hill said, “and I am happy to be back in the Central Valley after spending the last six years in Oregon.”
Hill is based in Red Bluff and can be reached at email@example.com.
Rúbia Branco Lopes joined UC Cooperative Extension on Aug. 1 as a dairy farm advisor for Tulare and Kern counties.
She is looking forward to working with dairy producers, consultants and allied industry throughout Tulare and Kern counties. Branco Lopes aims to develop a research and outreach program that will contribute to the competitiveness and profitability of California dairies.
Raised on a beef ranch in Brazil, Branco Lopes nurtured an interest in agriculture from an early age.
She came to the U.S. to work as a visiting scholar at the UC Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare. At VMTRC, among other projects, she studied the feeding management of close-up rations in California dairies.
Recently, Branco Lopes finished her Ph.D. in animal biology from UC Davis. Her dissertation investigated the effect of probiotics on growth of dairy calves and assessed the safety of commercial cattle probiotic products. During her academic career, she conducted research mainly on ruminant nutrition and antimicrobial stewardship.
She holds a bachelor's degree in agronomy and a master's in animal science from Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Branco Lopes is based out of the UC Cooperative Extension office in Tulare and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liliana Vega is the new UC Cooperative Extension 4-H youth development advisor serving San Diego and Orange counties as of Aug. 1.
Her research and outreach focus on positive youth development through a JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) lens, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), youth leadership, outdoor education, and college and career readiness/workforce development programs focused on reaching BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) youth and families.
Vega holds a bachelor's degree in multi-ethnic and Mexican American studies from Boise State University and a master's degree in adult/organizational learning and leadership from the University of Idaho.
With over 15 years of experience as a 4-H professional – previously serving San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for the last five years and in Idaho's Ada and Canyon counties before that – Vega feels prepared for her new role as an advisor in San Diego and Orange County.
In 2021, Vega was part of the team that won a Diversity & Inclusion Award from the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals for increasing the number of Latino youths participating in the California 4-H program by more than 250% over three years.
“I'm excited to forge new partnerships in San Diego and Orange counties and collaboratively work to provide access to experiential learning, increase youth-adult partnerships, and help youth gain the support they need to grow and thrive as individuals,” she said.
Vega has extensive experience in forming community partnerships to deliver quality youth development programs, with a focus on increasing access for minority, low-income and underserved audiences. Her expertise is in culturally adapting programs for the Latinx community.
Currently, Vega serves on the National 4-H LGBTQ+ and Immigrant/Refugee Youth and Community Champion Groups. She also chairs the 4-H Statewide JEDI Advisory Committee, California 4-H True Leaders in Equity Youth Taskforce, and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Career/College Readiness and Workforce Development Workgroup.
Vega is based at the UCCE office in San Diego and can be reached at email@example.com.
Jasmin Ramirez Bonilla joined the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program on July 10 as a pesticide-safety education program coordinator. She is working on projects promoting pesticide safety.
Prior to joining UC ANR, she worked for the CDFA Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch as a lab technician for the molecular lab, analyzing and processing crop samples for nematode identification.
Ramirez Bonilla earned a master's degree in entomology from UC Davis and bachelor's degree in Earth systems science from UC Merced. At UC Davis, she worked under the supervision of Ian Grettenberger, UCCE specialist, on IPM in forages and vegetable crops. For her thesis, Ramirez Bonilla researched the efficacy of an experimental aggregation pheromone for the management of cucumber beetles, key pests of fresh market melons in California.
Ramirez Bonilla is based at the ANR building in Davis and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before beginning her current position, Van Cleave-Hunt served for four years as a community education specialist for the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC program before becoming the program supervisor serving the same counties.
“Luckily, I already have my finger on the pulse of the community in these five counties just through my experience with CalFresh. I've been able to build rapport and connections with a lot of community partners and stakeholders,” said Van Cleave-Hunt.
As an advisor, Van Cleave-Hunt will focus on nutrition, education and healthy living efforts for people who are at a disadvantage, for example, those living in food deserts or experiencing food insecurity, a term used to describe the societal and environmental barriers to access and manage food.
“Food security is about environment and access, but also skills related to food,” Van Cleave-Hunt said. “For instance, budgeting, even things like gardening, cooking and knowing how to prepare food so that you don't always have to buy ready-made food, or how to store things properly so that they last as long as possible.”
According to Van Cleave-Hunt, food security includes skills that will help you get the most out of the food that you have.
Currently, Van Cleave-Hunt is compiling secondary data to conduct a needs assessment. In addition to engaging stakeholders such as resident service coordinators at low-income housing units or community organizations, she is also working with the State Council on Developmental Disabilities to develop healthy living trainings and curricula that will benefit communities in her counties.
Van Cleave-Hunt said that her time with UC Cooperative Extension has been a “full-circle journey” since she studied human behavior and health in school. She started her undergraduate career at Santa Rosa Junior College before transferring to California State University, Chico where she earned a bachelor's in nutrition and a master's degree in nutrition education.
Chelsey Slattery, former UCCE area nutrition, family, and consumer sciences advisor for Butte County, recruited Van Cleave-Hunt right out of college to be a UC Cooperative Extension community education specialist. Today, Van Cleave-Hunt holds the position that Slattery once did.
Van Cleave-Hunt can be reached at email@example.com and is based in Oroville.
Laurie Wayne joined UC Cooperative Extension on July 5 in Modoc County as a nutrition and food systems advisor for Modoc, Lassen and Siskiyou counties. Wayne will work with community members on healthy lifestyles, nutrition, food access and security, local food production, preservation and availability.
Wayne brings years of high-desert food systems experience to her role: she owned and operated Locavore Farms in Fort Bidwell, helped found the Surprise Valley Saturday Market and Modoc Harvest, and was on the team that started the Modoc Harvest Food Hub. She also has worked supporting healthy communities for Oregon State University Extension in Klamath Falls, and at the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance in Bend, Oregon.
She earned a master's degree in TESOL (to teach English as a second language) from Portland State University and worked in school and community gardens with immigrants and refugees as part of her research project. She earned a bachelor's degree in Italian literature from UC Santa Cruz.
This job feels like the culmination of the farming, studying, supporting farmers and working in food systems she has done in the past 15 years, Wayne said.
“I'm especially interested in working on expanding access to affordable, healthy, local food year-round, including extending and preserving the harvest,” Wayne said. Her goal is to help everyone feel empowered to make healthy food choices, and she's learning what resources producers need to improve processing, transportation and production strategies, and overcome barriers that are unique to the region.
To better understand both the food systems needs and the abundant food assets of northeastern California, she will be meeting with community members; state, local and regional nonprofits; schools and other organizations in the next few months. They will discuss ways to strengthen community food system resilience.
“It's all about healthy community members who can eat good local food without breaking the bank, and producers who can make a living feeding them,” Wayne said.
Based in Alturas, Wayne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (530) 233-6400.
Carly Hyland joined UC ANR in July as a UC assistant Cooperative Extension environmental health sciences specialist and assistant professor in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
She recently finished a mixed-methods project at Boise State University examining pesticide exposure and perceptions of the risks of pesticides among Latino men and women farmworkers in Idaho. In California, she is pursuing projects examining interventions to protect farmworkers from pesticides, extreme heat and wildfire smoke in collaboration with community partners.
“There are so many reasons I wanted to come back to Berkeley, and I think one of the biggest motivating factors for me was the collaborative environment focused not just on conducting innovative research, but also translating those findings into solutions to improve community health,” Hyland said. “Farmworkers are increasingly experiencing the health impacts of climate change on a daily basis, and this position will provide me with the resources and collaborations necessary to identify strategies to address these urgent issues.”
Hyland earned her Ph.D. in environmental health sciences and master's degree in global health and the environment, both from UC Berkeley, and bachelor's degree in environmental science from Carthage College in Wisconsin.
Hyland is based at UC Berkeley and can be reached at email@example.com and on X (formerly Twitter) @c_hyland1.
Bailey Smith-Helman joined UCCE Santa Cruz County on July 3 as a community education specialist with the UC ANR Climate Smart Agriculture Program.
Smith-Helman, who relocated from Washington, D.C., is excited to get back in the field and support Santa Cruz County growers with climate-smart agriculture practices and California Department of Food and Agriculture financial incentive programs.
CDFA programs provide financial incentives to eligible farmers and ranchers implementing new practices that maximize water efficiency, build soil health, and improve manure management. She is ready to assist interested growers with grant applications, project planning and implementation.
After graduating from Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in political science and environmental policy, Smith-Helman moved to Paraguay to serve as an agriculture volunteer with the Peace Corps. In Paraguay, she worked closely with agricultural educators and local producers to develop education plans and lessons to engage high school students in agricultural coursework.
After returning to the U.S., Smith-Helman worked for USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, where she gained experience in agriculture policy analysis and program management.
Smith-Helman is based in Watsonville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James “Jay” Sayre joined UC Cooperative Extension and the UC Davis Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics as a CE Specialist on July 1.
His role focuses on the economics of food supply chains across the state of California. Sayre aims to study policies to promote greater competition in food supply chains to benefit smaller-scale producers, understand the role of international trade in agriculture and its effects on Californian consumers, and assess how supply chains can best respond to a changing climate.
Sayre is excited about combining economic theory and modeling approaches with understanding the needs of stakeholders in California to benefit food supply chains within California.
Sayre earned a doctorate in Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley. His dissertation research spanned several disciplines, with chapters seeking to understand how agricultural supply chains lead regions to specialize in certain crops, the consequences of phytosanitary and other non-tariff barriers to trade, as well as developing methodology to accurately assess crop yields across large regions using satellite imagery and other sources of publicly available data. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics and mathematics from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
The Colorado native is looking forward to addressing a variety of issues relevant to California stakeholders. An ongoing project looks to develop fine-scale projections of future agricultural productivity for most of the major crops California produces, including crops that have historically not had such measures available, like perennials such as almonds, avocados and other fruits.
He hopes such information will be relevant not only for growers seeking to understand whether their land will be relatively more suitable in the future for different crops, but also agricultural intermediaries and policy makers looking to understand where production of certain crops may shift in the future.
Before joining Cooperative Extension and UC Davis, Sayre worked in Mexico, seeking to better understand the cross-border nature of supply chains that operate in both California and Mexico. He is proficient in Spanish and aims to increase the accessibility of extension to Spanish speakers.
Sayre is based out of the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at UC Davis and can be reached at email@example.com.
Justin Valliere joined UC ANR on July 1 as an assistant professor of Cooperative Extension in invasive weed and restoration ecology at UC Davis.
Valliere's research aims to evaluate how human-caused environmental change and invasive plant species impact native ecosystems, and how we can reverse this degradation through ecological restoration. The overarching goal of his research and outreach is to develop real-world solutions for land management in the face of global change.
“CE already is such an effective system for supporting agriculture, but it's also an important model for natural resource management and restoration,” Valliere told Trina Kleist, writer for the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “There is a real need for help advising folks throughout the state about managing and restoring natural lands, and I'm excited to help bolster that.”
Prior to joining UC Davis, Valliere was an assistant professor of biology at CSU Dominguez Hills, a research fellow at the University of Western Australia, and a postdoctoral fellow at the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science at UCLA.
Valliere earned his Ph.D. in plant biology from UC Riverside, and a bachelor's degree in biology from Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont.
Valliere is based in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alexandra “Ali” Estvan Hill joined UC ANR and UC Berkeley's Department of Agricultural and Resources Economics on July 1 as an assistant professor of Cooperative Extension specializing in the economics of diversity and equity.
From 2019 until she joined UC, Hill worked as an assistant professor of agricultural economics at Colorado State University. Her research centers around the U.S. agricultural workforce and seeks to demonstrate how a variety of factors impact worker well-being, quantified in terms of income or health impacts – and to make a business case for employers, in terms of implications for production or profits, to institute policies and practices that promote worker well-being.
Hired farmworkers contribute greatly to the racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic diversity of U.S. agriculture; however, they are frequently not treated equitably and face a multitude of economic, physical, legal and emotional hardships in their personal and professional lives. Hill's research seeks to begin dismantling these inequities by finding avenues through which employers can increase worker well-being while maintaining or increasing profits.
Hill brings extensive experience working with individual agricultural businesses to accomplish these objectives through enhancing firm data collection and analysis to provide an array of effective, efficient and actionable insights.
She is building an extension program centered around advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the agri-food system by enhancing the well-being of agricultural employees and other disadvantaged members of rural and urban agricultural communities.
She earned her Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics from UC Davis and master's degree in agricultural and applied economics and bachelor's degree in agricultural and consumer economics from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
National 4-H Council today (Sept. 29, 2023) announced that Michaela Auyeung of Los Gatos, is a runner-up for the 2024 4-H Youth in Action Award. Auyeung is recognized nationally for her commitment to providing STEM access and improving mental and physical well-being for girls in her community.
Auyeung, 17, provides free coding classes and instruction to girls through her program, Girls Who Love to Code. Through partnerships with two school systems, Girls Who Love to Code has engaged more than 250 girls while seeking to close the opportunity and education gap for girls in STEM. Auyeung also provided mental health workshops to aid students in addressing anxiety and created two school pantries to provide hygiene items, school supplies, and snacks to students in need. A senior in high school, Auyeung plans to continue to advocate for gender and socioeconomic equality in education through her outreach and beyond.
The 4-H Youth in Action Awards began in 2010 to recognize 4-H'ers who have overcome challenges and used the knowledge they gained in 4-H to create a lasting impact in their community. To learn more about the 4-H Youth in Action program and the 2024 runners-up, please visit http://4-H.org/YouthInAction.
4-H, the nation's largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for career tomorrow. 4-H programs empower nearly six million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4-H is the youth development program of our nation's Cooperative Extension System and USDA, and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3,000 local Extension offices. Globally, 4-H collaborates with independent programs to empower one million youth in 50 countries. The research-backed 4-H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs.
Learn more about 4-H at www.4-H.org, find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/4-H and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/4H. To learn more about the California 4-H Program, visit: https://4h.ucanr.edu/.
- Author: Hanif Houston, The VINE
Students must form teams by Oct. 31; proposals due Nov. 15
Registration is now open for college teams competing in the 2024 Farm Robotics Challenge and proposals are due Nov. 15. The collegiate competition is organized by The VINE, an initiative of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, in collaboration with farm-ng, F3 Innovate and AI Institute for Next Gen Food Systems.
The Farm Robotics Challenge is an annual event where teams of students from universities and colleges across the United States tackle real-world farming challenges. The competition focuses on small-farm applications and leverages the state-of-the-art Amiga robot to integrate robotics into agricultural research. This year, the challenge is expanding by introducing a new division for two-year colleges, to allow more students to participate.
“The Farm Robotics Challenge is not just another competition; it's a transformative experience designed to cultivate the next generation of leaders in agricultural technology,” said Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer and founder of The VINE. “By participating in this challenge, students are not only showcasing their technical skills, but also contributing to a larger mission — advancing sustainable and efficient farming practices for the future. We're incredibly excited to see the solutions that these young entrepreneurs will bring to the table.”
Teams are expected to address a variety of production farming topics, which can range from any crop or size of farm. The challenges for the competition are categorized into three main areas: Autonomy, which includes course navigation; Artificial Intelligence, focusing on vision and sensing as well as dataset collection; and Attachment, which involves the development of devices that can be attached to the robot for farm tasks..
“We're proud to join forces with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources for the second annual Farm Robotics Challenge," said Ethan Rublee, CEO of farm-ng. "With our Amiga robotics platform, our aim is to not only inspire the next wave of agricultural innovation, but also to prepare the workforce that will bring these innovations to life.”
Judging for the competition will be based on a range of criteria including the accuracy and completeness of the project, the elegance and ease of use in the design, safety measures, interdisciplinary inclusion, societal and economic impact, cost considerations, and the commercial and market potential of the solution.
The competition will consist of two main parts: market research, project proposal and fundraising; followed by development, coding and fabrication. Key dates include:
- Team formation deadline: Oct. 31
- Project proposal submission deadline: Nov. 15
- Development start: Jan. 31, 2024
- Judging: Sept. 6, 2024
Interested students, universities and investors are encouraged to visit the official Farm Robotics Challenge website at www.farmroboticschallenge.ai to fill out interest forms and get involved. The website also features detailed information about the challenges and judging criteria.
About The VINE
The VINE, an initiative of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, is California's agriculture, food, and biotech innovation network. Our mission is to harness the power of open innovation to help industries and entrepreneurs grow and scale globally while catalyzing technology innovation and commercialization for productive, sustainable and equitable food systems.
Established on Oct. 1, 2020, the Artificial Intelligence Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, or AIFS, aims to solve the world's biggest challenges to crop and food production facing our planet: ensuring a sustainable, nutritious, efficient and safe food supply while mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Based in Watsonville, farm-ng is building general purpose off-road robotics hardware and software products. The company's mission is to transform the food system by democratizing access for the smallest farmer to cutting-edge robotics technology.
About F3 Innovate
Headquartered in California's Central Valley, F3 Innovate is the U.S. epicenter for climate-smart agrifood tech. With proximity to over 13,650 farms and 5 million acres of farmland, we collaborate with top research institutions to advance industry research and development. Supported by federal and state funding, F3 Innovate is geared to shape the future of sustainable food production worldwide.
- Author: Hanif Houston
Validation of Innovation Program provides supportive ecosystem for startups
The VINE, an initiative by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, is now accepting applications for its VINE Validation of Innovation Program. The program aims to support innovation in the agri-tech sector, particularly in climate-resilient solutions for California food systems.
Made possible with support from a UC Climate Action grant, the program is inviting startups to apply, with a focus on providing comprehensive support for field trials – a critical stage for any agri-tech venture.
"Field trials are vital for validating new innovations in the agri-tech sector,” said Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer with UC ANR and founder of The VINE. “The VINE VIP aims to provide a supportive environment for carrying out these essential tests, bridging the gap between innovative concepts and real-world application."
Elif Ceylan, co-founder of OpenGate Partners and head of the VINE VIP, also stressed the importance of field trials.
"Field trials serve as a crucial phase where promising ideas either succeed or require adjustment,” Ceylan said. “We are committed to prioritizing this stage to ensure the effectiveness and relevance of emerging agri-tech solutions."
The VINE VIP offers more than field trials. It provides a supportive ecosystem for startups, including industry connections, access to a broad network of farmers and experts, comprehensive validation results and market entry support. The program is a unique accelerator that pairs startups with project partners in the agri-tech industry, facilitating Proof of Concept projects and commercialization trials for industry-defined challenges in California agriculture.
By connecting startups with farmers, academics and industry experts, the program aims to validate, advance, adopt and amplify innovative technologies, reducing technological risks and accelerating sales through its extensive industry network.
Startups interested in joining the VINE VIP can apply until Sept. 16, 2023. Detailed information about the program and the application process is available on The VINE's website at thevine.io/vip.
The VINE is an initiative of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, dedicated to fostering agriculture, food, and biotech innovation in California. Our mission is to support industries and entrepreneurs while promoting technology innovation and commercialization for sustainable and equitable food systems. We connect entrepreneurs with public and private sector resources, encourage collaborations to address industry challenges, and promote regional capacity for global innovation as an economic opportunity./h3>
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Eye doctor-turned-rancher brings science background to his second career
Siskiyou County rancher Jack Cowley, 91, joyfully recalled the special Christmas gift that delighted his seven children in the 1960s. Cowley, then a practicing eye doctor in Sacramento, and his late wife Barbara surprised the children with a white quarterhorse, which they named Silver.
“That's how it all started!” exclaimed Cowley, reflecting on the gift horse that would eventually lead to a 40-year collaboration with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Silver was the impetus for his family's involvement with the 4-H Youth Development Program, a part of UC ANR. Cowley also would later transition to a second career in cattle ranching, and collaborate with UC Cooperative Extension on research projects ranging from weed control to cow genetics.
“Jack has been an extremely committed supporter of UCCE,” said Grace Woodmansee, who became the UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor for Siskiyou County in 2021. “He has worked with UCCE extensively and contributed a lot of time and resources to supporting local and statewide projects.”
Lately Cowley and his son David have been working with Woodmansee and Gabriele Maier, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, on a cow deworming study.
Not only has Cowley allowed UCCE scientists to study his cattle over the years, he has been willing to personally share information with scientists and cattle producers across the country and internationally.
“It is important to foster exchange and linkages, said Dan Drake, UCCE farm advisor emeritus in Siskiyou County, who collaborated with Cowley for 30 years. “He went to so many meetings, especially with the early and uncharted areas of cattle genetics. Jack was on a first-name basis with the leaders from other states and the relationships were important in both directions. Frankly, I think many of those folks were jealous of the great cooperator we had in California.”
Breeding for better beef
After retiring from his Sacramento ophthalmology practice in the 1990s, Cowley settled in Montague in Siskiyou County, 246 miles north of the closest UC campus. There he met then-UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Steve Orloff and Drake. Orloff advised him on alfalfa production and pasture management while Drake offered counsel on animal health records, organizing breeding, animal nutrition and water issues.
Drake explained to ranchers that by selectively breeding cows based on genetics, they could improve the production and quality of beef so that it's healthier for humans.
“My medical background helped me understand animal genetics,” Cowley said. “We can modify the genetics to improve the quality of the beef to make it more heart-healthy.”
In 2009, Drake introduced Cowley to UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alison Van Eenennaam, who studies animal genetics at UC Davis.
“I was looking to set up a research trial where we would follow cattle from the ranch all the way through to the Harris Ranch processing plant in the Central Valley,” said Van Eenennaam, who worked with Cowley on a three-year project.
Using DNA samples from Cowley's cattle, they evaluated the data they received from processor Harris Ranch of the beef characteristics – such as tenderness -- to compare the different breeds.
“I really thought I knew what I was doing and my cattle graded terribly,” Cowley said.
Since beginning the genetics project, his beef quality steadily improved.
“We're now up to where all of our animals are graded anywhere from 20% to 40% Prime and the rest Choice,” said Cowley, adding that he stopped striving for higher grades because the buyer said there was a limited market for the more expensive meat.
Cowley takes pride in knowing breeding practices developed from the research he and UC Cooperative Extension conducted have been adopted globally by dairy producers and beef producers.
“The type of research we were doing there has eventually evolved to now we have these genomic tests that you can use that genetically predict the performance of animals,” Van Eenennaam said. “Nowadays people just take an ear tag and send it in and get their genetic prediction.”
Van Eenennaam credits Cowley for allowing research on his large herd. “Jack was very patient with things that take a long time. When researchers come onto your ranch, that could slow you down.”
She added, “Genetic improvement, of course, is a huge component of sustainability because the more efficient cattle are, the less feed they consume and the less time they take to finish, which ultimately lessens their environmental footprint.”
Growing up in Utah
Looking back, Cowley marvels that he has been fortunate to do what he wanted to do in life.
“I was interested in ranching when I was probably seven or eight years of age,” said Cowley, who delivered the local Deseret Newspaper on horseback as a boy. “I grew up in Utah, you know, a little town in Utah called Holladay. It was not a ranching community.”
After serving four years in the Air Force during the Korean War, he returned to Utah to find the cute girl he met in first grade had graduated from college and was still single. He married Barbara in 1956. When he was accepted at George Washington University medical school, they drove with their three-week-old baby from Utah to Washington, D.C. He got a job in the Senate office building as an elevator operator working from 5 to 11 p.m., which enabled him to study, meet influential people and finish medical school without debt.
“I actually got to meet Khrushchev,” he said, recalling his encounter with the Soviet leader..
After finishing his ophthalmology residency at UCLA, Cowley established his practice in Sacramento and later taught a few classes at UC Davis Medical School.
Becoming a cattleman
One Saturday afternoon, after Silver the horse joined the family, Cowley and his oldest daughter, Kathryn, were driving in Placerville and saw a ranch for sale. He bought the 90 acres. For two summers, Barbara and the children lived at the ranch and Cowley joined them on weekends.
“Of course, I had to have a few cows to play with,” he said with a chuckle. “Basically, I thought I could make some money off of 50 cows.”
As his herd grew, he moved it to Corning, 50 miles south of Redding, and finally to the site in Montague that could accommodate several hundred head of cattle. “That's when I really became interested in animal genetics,” Cowley said. “That was back when we had slide rules to do our calculations. It was pretty crude, but it was a start.”
In 1990, Cowley was honored as the California Beef Cattle Improvement Association's Seedstock Producer of the year and, in 2007, was named Siskiyou County's Cattleman of the Year. He has served as president of the Siskiyou County Cattlemen's Association, on the Cattlemen's Beef Board, as well as on committees for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
“Jack spent countless hours traveling to the Midwest and other beef research institutions to share knowledge, learn more and plan for needed information,” said Drake, emeritus UCCE livestock advisor. This made for better Extension work, better research and recognition of UC Cooperative Extension work nationwide.”
In 2011, when Van Eenennaam and Drake presented their research at an international genomics conference, he joined them in Australia to learn from other researchers. They also visited Australian producers to learn their practices.
“We really rely on cooperators like Jack to enable our research to have translation to farmers and ranchers,” Van Eenennaam said.
In recent years, Cowley has handed the ranch reins over to his children David, Brian, Brent and Kathryn, who live in Siskiyou County.
David, who retired from a nearly 40-year career as a software engineer, plans to continue working with UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists.
“Any time you have questions, you can call and they're more than happy to help you,” he said./h3>/h3>