- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
The Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas in June on “The Future of Food” showcased technology, innovation and ideas that will make agriculture more efficient, productive, profitable and safe. To make these advancements accessible to all Americans, broadband connectivity must reach currently unserved rural areas, speakers said.
“We've got gee-whiz technology that is dependent on broadband,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the event's keynote speaker. “Rural broadband is a huge issue with transformational capacity to bridge the rural-urban divide.”
A former farmer and governor of Georgia, Perdue said many people who now live in urban areas would welcome the opportunity to populate locations with a slower pace and lower cost of living.
“If they could work from home, if they had connectivity to do their jobs there, many people would choose to live in rural areas,” he said.
Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O'Lakes, Inc., a $15 billion company headquartered in Minnesota, said about 30 percent of farmers across the country have no access to broadband.
“We have a shared future. Rural communities need to be vibrant,” Ford said. “That starts with broadband.”
The effort to extend broadband access to rural communities in California is a priority for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources vice president Glenda Humiston. While it is potentially expensive to bring internet connectivity to every resident of the state – from the far reaches of Modoc County in the north to remote desert communities near the Mexican border in the south – those communities' lack of high-speed internet is exacting a high economic, medical, social and educational cost.
Humiston was part of a Summit panel that discussed how to cultivate the next generation of leadership in farming. The panelists said future ag industry leaders will need traditional leadership skills – communicating and listening well – but with the growth of agricultural technology, digital literacy is imperative. Using these new high-technology tools will also require broadband coverage, Humiston said.
“Technologies that use artificial intelligence are increasingly dependent on high-speed internet connectivity for real-time data uploads and processing in the cloud,” she noted. “If farms cannot get affordable broadband coverage, or if bandwidth is limited, this will greatly hinder their ability to adopt new technologies.”
On the first day of the summit, nine companies competed for a $200,000 investment from SVG Ventures-THRIVE. The startup companies' ideas exemplified the emerging technologies that are being developed to advance the future of food and agriculture. The winner was Livestock Water Recycling, a Canadian startup that has developed a way to treat large quantities of manure from dairies, hog farms, beef feeding facilities and anaerobic digesters. The system separates the liquid from the barn into solids, nutrients for precise fertilization, and potable water.
“Creating clean water from manure is exciting,” said CEO Karen Schuett in her presentation.
ProteoSense won the Food Safety Award and The Bee Corp took home the Sustainability Award. ProteoSense is a biotechnology company in Columbus, Ohio, which developed a tool for quick, onsite food safety testing. The Bee Corp offers thermal imaging with proprietary algorithms for accurate monitoring of bee hive health without disrupting the insects by opening the hive.
Two competitors partnered with UC to develop their innovations. Tensorfield Agriculture used technology tested at UC Davis in its weeding robot. The robot applies heated canola oil to weeds, killing weeds within an hour without herbicides and without disturbing the soil. FarmX combines software and sensors to measures soil, plant and environmental variables and accurately measure water stress. The company counts UC Cooperative Extension emeritus advisor Blake Sanden on its team.
The key role of land grant universities like the University of California in developing, testing and implementing agricultural technologies was noted frequently during the Forbes AgTech Summit.
“The advantage of basic and applied ag research, and delivery by the extension service is what's made the U.S. a superpower of food in the world,” said secretary Purdue. “We're on the cusp of regeneration of agriculture and digitization of agriculture. We have the ability, with land grant universities and extension service, to get on the ground floor of understanding new technology.”
Tara Vander Dussen, environmental scientist and farmer at the 6,000-cow New Mexico Milkmaid dairy, also advised, “If you need sustainability advice for your dairy, go to your land grant university.”
UC ANR was a sponsor at the partner level of the Forbes AgTech Summit, which brings together bright minds and innovative institutions from two key parts of California's economic engine — agriculture and technology.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
To enhance funding for food and agriculture businesses in the Central Valley, more than 60 people involved in small business finance gathered at the AgPlus Funders Forum Dec. 12 to contribute ideas.
Representatives from financial institutions, economic development organizations, universities, government agencies and innovative funders like community development financial institutions (CDFI) attended. Participants shared innovative financing tools for business and discussed obstacles for people in rural communities to access capital at the forum at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources building in Davis.
Two primary challenges faced by people trying to start a new business are figuring out how to get started – such as their supply chain – and gaining access to capital to finance their endeavor, according to keynote speaker Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
“There are actually an array of sources of capital beyond just the traditional bank loan, the problem is people don't know about them or how to access them,” Humiston said. She added that much more capital could be available to Central Valley businesses if residents would invest locally. “If you had brought home just one percent of the retirement accounts held by people in the AgPLUS region back in 2010, you would have had over $1 billion to invest in this region,” she said.
Marc Nemanic of 3CORE, Carrie Ellinwood of U.S. Small Business Administration, Ismael Herrero of Fresno State's Office of Community and Economic Development, and Catherine Howard of Northern California Community Loan Fund discussed some of the challenges for financing new businesses and alternatives to traditional bank loans.
Nemanic noted that many millennials are carrying student loan debt, which may make them averse to taking on more debt or prevent them from qualifying for business loans.
Howard said her organization is creating a tool to help people satisfy collateral requirements for credit.
To build their businesses, entrepreneurs often need technical assistance so Herrera's office pairs young companies with experienced mentors and other services. Herrera said he is working to create public and private partnerships in rural communities, such as commercial kitchens for people to turn farm produce into value-added products to sell at farmers markets.
Panelists pointed out that jobs in the gig economy, such as driving for Uber or Lyft, don't provide the stable income that tradition lenders seek in borrowers so they need to create a flexible product.
In the afternoon, participants split into four groups to focus on identifying opportunities for supporting economic development, supporting small business and microenterprises, effective intermediaries to connect investors with entrepreneurs, and regional finance funds. Each topic was discussed by a diverse group of people as peers and experts, bringing their own expertise to the table.
To address the interplay between higher education, student debt and the structural changes in the nation's economy, Meg Arnold, who moderated the session, said she could foresee policy implications.
“Student debt is not forgivable,” said Arnold, managing director of Valley Vision. “At the same time we are making a four-year university degree both more necessary and less affordable, the economy is also changing, to the point that some graduates may need to think of self-employment or gig economy employment.”
“We need everybody who participated today to share those examples of where something kind of unique or innovative is really working,” said Humiston.
Ideas generated during the forum will be used to inform the work of the Central Valley AgPLUS Food and Beverage Manufacturing Consortium, which hosted the AgPlus Funders Forum. The information will also be used by Humiston to update the 2012 Access to Capital Report by California Financial Opportunities Roundtable (CalFOR). The report highlights financial needs for businesses in California, reviews financial tools and capital sources and provides policy recommendations. Humiston will also convey the outcomes to the California Economic Summit.
The AgPlus Funders Forum was sponsored by Chase Bank, Valley Vision, the Center for Economic Development, First Northern Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Employment Training Panel, Blue Tech Valley, Fresno State Community and Economic Development and UC ANR.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
On Jan. 20, Mexican children dipped their hands into pails of soil to check the moisture level. They tapped the soil into seed trays and then pressed in the seeds of their choice – cabbage, peppers or flowers. Over the next few weeks, the children will gather in a greenhouse next to their Mexicali neighborhood to witness the miracle of germination.
The children also witnessed the building of a new bridge between California and Baja California that will give Mexican youth access to proven, hands-on educational experiences from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).
“The need for education doesn't stop at the border,” said Lupita Fábregas, UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development advisor and assistant director for 4-H diversity and expansion. “The wonderful educational opportunities available to California youth are now being offered to a group of children in Mexicali. And that program will be a model for the rest of Baja California and Mexico.”
Over the last 100 years, the UC ANR 4-H program has taught legions of California children about food, agriculture, leadership and community service using learn-by-doing practices. In January, UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston traveled to Mexicali to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Baja California Secretary of Agriculture, Manuel Vallodolid Seamanduras, to offer that expertise to youth south of the border.
Seamanduras leads SEFOA in Baja, Mexico, an organization like California's Department of Food and Agriculture with facilities in Ejido Sinaloa, a small, humble neighborhood in Mexicali. At the ceremony marking the signing of an agreement between UC ANR 4-H and SEFOA, Seamanduras likened the pact to a marriage.
“This is a perfect marriage,” Seamanduras said. “This has produced 30 fruits that are not yet mature. But this fruit is going to feed your community.” The fruit Seamanduras referred to were the children in 4-H.
Seamanduras told the youth and families that the new club in Mexico is not a project of his office. “It is your club,” he said. “Give me your word that you will make this a successful program.”
José Enrique Partida Lizarraga is one of the people ready to take up the reins. His grandson was among the thirty 8- and 9-year-old founding members of the 4-H Baja California club.
“4-H will help the children become better citizens and this drew my attention because I have always felt that Mexico lacks good citizens working to better our country,” he said. “It is an honor for me to participate.”
Humiston, who credits 4-H with enabling her to be the first in her family to attend college, also spoke to the children gathered at a signing ceremony.
“We're excited to share the 4-H experience with you,” she said.
Today, projects in new technologies – like drones and rocketry – join more traditional projects – like cooking, sewing, animal husbandry and farming – to give youth channels to explore a wide variety of options and interests.
“We are looking into expanding to community colleges and offering education for future entrepreneurs or youth interested in skilled trades,” Humiston said.
Before stepping off the stage, Humiston lead the children in reciting the 4-H Pledge.
“I'm looking forward to coming down here and seeing 300 or even 400 4-H members next year,” Humiston said.
The establishment of a club like 4-H in Mexico is the fulfillment of a life's dream for Claudia Diaz Carrasco, 4-H Youth Development advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
A native of Mexico City, Diaz Carrasco came to the U.S. to complete a master's degree in international agriculture. She saw kids in green shirts at a state 4-H Round Up that were learning about food security.
“I found my passion,” Diaz Carrasco said. “To solve world hunger, we need to find solutions one community at a time. 4-H does that.”
She intended to return to Mexico to share her new passion with her native community, but got a job with the University of California, where she is serving communities in Southern California that are nearly half Latino, many of Mexican descent.
Helping launch 4-H in Mexico, she said, felt like her own personal mission accomplished.
Although UC's northernmost campus is UC Davis, the region is served by UC Cooperative Extension. The university opened its first Cooperative Extension office in Eureka in 1913, but April 27 marked the first official visit to Humboldt County by a UC president.
“I hope to show the president how local residents benefit from UC Cooperative Extension and to give President Napolitano and Vice President Humiston ideas on how the university may get more involved in solving local challenges,” said Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension director and forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, who organized the tour.
Accompanied by Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Napolitano's day began at the Potawot Health Village in Arcata, where United Indian Health Services (UIHS) has a clinic and gardens of more than 35 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants that serve 15,000 people in Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
Because the rate of diabetes among Native Americans is twice that of non-Hispanic whites, UIHS provides an integrated nutrition education program. The work of UC Cooperative Extension advisors Deborah Giraud and Dorina Espinoza and Jessica Conde Rebholtz, nutrition educator for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), complements UIHS's efforts for low-income community members.
“In EFNEP, we measure behavior changes over an eight-week program and we have seen positive changes in how people manage their resources. So, we can promote healthy eating within a budget,” said Espinoza. “But unless we have an environment that supports the very changes we're promoting, the habits are difficult to sustain.”
Rebholtz observed that collaborating agencies offer healthier options for their EFNEP clients and have begun replacing sugary drinks and goldfish crackers with water, fruit and vegetables as children's snacks.
“UC's statewide Nutrition Policy Institute works closely with our county-based Cooperative Extension teams and is doing the research on the effectiveness of these activities so we get this feedback loop that improves the programs,” Humiston noted.
Ensuring food security, health and sustainability are among the goals of UC's Global Food Initiative.
On the boat, Coast Seafoods Company manager Greg Dale shucked an oyster fresh from the bay. The former Arizona governor ate the oyster on the half shell.
“It doesn't get any fresher than this,” Dale said.
Dale explained how his company works with UC Cooperative Extension, UC Sea Grant and other businesses and organizations to maintain the water quality in the bay. “We all need excellent water quality for economic activity,” he said.
Dina Moore, who is married to a sixth-generation rancher in Kneeland and serves on the UC President's Advisory Commission for agriculture, told Napolitano she appreciates the expertise that Cooperative Extension brings from campus as much as the research the advisors provide locally to manage natural resources. “I think the university helps us embrace the reality of being environmentally forward-thinking,” Moore said.
Climate change is one of the challenges that UC is helping Humboldt County businesses address.
“Lower pH and carbonate saturation makes it more difficult for shellfish to acquire and assimilate carbonate from seawater to make their shells. Larval shellfish are especially vulnerable because of their small size and the fact that their shells are composed of aragonite, a more sensitive form of calcium carbonate,” Dale said. “It can affect their energy budget and survival.”
With the support of university researchers, hatcheries are monitoring the chemistry of seawater with an instrument called a Burkolator. “When the pH, and more importantly carbonate saturation, of seawater decrease to the point that it is harmful to larvae – which can occur during upwelling – hatchery managers can shut off intake pumps or add chemicals to buffer the water,” Tyburczy explained.
“We need someone like Joe to analyze the data and tell us what it means,” said Dale.
Forests provide economic and ecological benefits
After the boat ride, Napolitano and Humiston took a walk in the City of Arcata Community Forest, the largest community-owned forest in California. Mark Andre, City of Arcata environmental services director, described how the city works with UC to manage the 2,300 acres of redwoods for timber, wildlife, water quality and to sequester carbon for future generations, while simultaneously providing high-quality recreational opportunities for city residents.
“UC Cooperative Extension is important to us,” Andre said. “Community-based forestry integrates ecological, social and economic strategies. To honor the ecological emphasis we need science to inform our management decisions.
“This year we were able to coordinate several partners and bring $2.6 million dollars in conservation funding to help landowners restore their oak woodlands,” Valachovic said. “We provide a science, policy, research and educational hub for the region.”
When asked what she found most interesting about the bay and forest visits, Napolitano replied, “There's a relationship from the water to the land to the mountain and forest and there's a lot of science and biology that links those things in terms of how we think about them.”
In the afternoon, UC 4-H Youth Development Program members and volunteers described for Napolitano and Humiston their projects, which ranged from raising calves to teaching safety in shooting sports to quickly solving a Rubik's cube to making videos and organizing a fashion week.
“4-H helps us build life skills,” said Molly Crandall, president of Arcata Bottom, California's oldest 4-H club, founded in 1913.
Napolitano lauded the 4-H members and volunteers for their accomplishments, and told them, “Know that through UC, and UC Extension and our Ag and Natural Resources Division, we intend to not only continue supporting 4-H, but doing evermore with 4-H because I think it's a great, great organization.”
At the end of the day, the president thanked all of the tour participants for enlightening her on what UC is doing in Humboldt County. “What I've been listening for today, and looking forward to hearing more about, is what more canthe university do,” Napolitano said. “I truly believe this is a great area of the state of California.”
Napolitano and Humiston joined in the 4-H pledge
A UC president to visit Humboldt County for first time ever by Marc Vartabedian, the Eureka Times-Standard
Garden Tours with Homeland Security by Grant Scott-Goforth, North Coast Journal
University of California president visits Humboldt County by Taylor Torregano, KAEF-TV