- 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.
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