Posts Tagged: The VINE
A torrent of technology is flowing into the agricultural sector. To make sense of it, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Fresno State and West Hills Community College came together with technology vendors and growers at Open Farm 2018, held in October at UC ANR's Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.
“A lot of technology is coming out,” said Kearney director and UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist Jeff Dahlberg. “I need to caution you, it's not all is based on science. We are helping with testing.”
Dalhberg has been working with Blue River Technologies to monitor the growth of dozens of sorghum cultivars. Throughout the growing season, Blue River flew drones over the sorghum nursery with cameras to capture their growth and development.
“We have a huge phenotypic dataset,” Dalhberg said. “It will be compared at the genetic level with plant samples and help us identify genes associated with drought tolerance.”
At Open Farm, Dahlberg's field presentation was paired with Smartfield, a company that uses fixed cameras and field sensors to gather information for “big data crunching.”
PowWow Energy, based in San Francisco with a field office at the Water, Energy and Technology (WET) Center at Fresno State, met near a well at Kearney to explain how the company can help growers with decision support tools. The company believes their technology will be useful for farmers tracking groundwater usage, data that will be key to complying with new rules associated with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). SGMA, signed by Gov. Brown in 2014, gives local agencies the authority to manage groundwater in a way that achieves sustainability by 2042.
UCCE agriculture mechanization specialist Ali Pourezza introduced a prototype he developed with junior specialist German Zuniga-Ramirez that he believes will make early detection of the devastating citrus disease huanglongbing as easy as taking a photo with a smartphone camera.
The idea is based on the optical characteristics of the disease in leaves. By using a polarizing light, leaves on diseased trees are immediately identified. Infected trees can then be torn out before insects have the chance to spread the disease to other trees.
Pourezza and Zuniga-Ramirez are seeking funding to take the prototype to the next level, and eventually commercialize the product.
This sampling of innovations being showcased at Kearney is part of a continuing effort by UC to connect the ag community with technology developers and resources that is shepherded by a new UC ANR program called The VINE, Verde Innovation Network For Entrepreneurship. The VINE was created by UC ANR in 2017 to link entrepreneurs with mentors, advisors, collaborators, events, competitions and education.
At Open Farm 2018, UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston was the keynote speaker. She outlined three areas where farmers, the technology sector and academia can work together to accelerate technology application in rural parts of California: improve broadband access, identify high-value uses for biomass and establish water infrastructure in rural communities.
To address the broadband issue, Humiston is leading an initiative to document mobile internet speed across California – including rural areas. In April 2019, Humiston plans to enlist 4-H members across the state to test internet speed using the free smartphone app CalSpeed several times over a period of a week.
“This will give us a snapshot of mobile broadband service availability,” Humiston said.
The crisis in the Sierra Nevada – where millions of trees died from the drought of 2010-16 – could prompt the development of high-value uses of biomass and establish a market for biomass derived in the agricultural sector, she said.
Humiston also took the opportunity to ask participants to help make sure the critical services UC ANR provides – including county-based UC Cooperative Extension, nine research and extension centers, the UC integrated pest management program, 4-H youth development, UC Master Gardeners and others – continue to fuel the California economy. Diminished funding from the State of California is taking a toll on the UC ANR budget.
“We need people like you to work with the VINE to set up improved support,” Humiston said.
The dizzying impact of the digital revolution on many sectors of society – from retail to law enforcement, politics and entertainment – has also altered the picture on California farms.
With technology, farmers have found ways to reduce pesticide use, increase irrigation efficiency, reduce travel into the fields, manage people better, and deal with labor shortages. Much more can be done.
To connect farmers interested in ag innovations with researchers who can confirm the potential of new technologies, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources created Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, or the VINE. The program has launched a website at https://thevine.io, a place for farmers, food entrepreneurs, researchers and technology professionals to find the resources they need to build, launch and grow agricultural innovations.
“The VINE brings together academia across UC, the Cal-State University system, and community colleges with innovators in technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, indoor agriculture and others,” said Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer. “We want to create rural testbeds to develop technology. UC ANR's research and extension centers are well set up to do that.”
UC ANR has research and extension centers (RECs) across California, in locations representative of different agricultural ecosystems – from the desert southwest to the intermountain region near the Oregon border. The VINE recently invited technology companies and farmers to the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier to mark the installation of a wifi tower that will bathe the 330-acre agricultural research station in high-speed wireless internet.
The project built on the partnership with the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) that brought ultra-fast (100Gbps) broadband capability to Kearney offices and laboratories two years ago. UC ANR collaborated with Orange Silicon Valley and BlueTown to extend the connectivity via wireless transmission to every corner of the research fields.
The wifi update enables researchers at Kearney to collect and view data without any delay.
“Now we can do real-time data collection,” said Jeff Dahlberg, Kearney director. “We need science to back up technology. We can use Kearney to ground-truth new technologies before farmers make a decision to buy into it.”
Internet access may not be critical to farming at the moment, but as growers adopt more technology-driven applications on their farms, a fast, reliable and widespread internet will be imperative.
“We're setting a foundation for the future,” Youtsey said. “The innovation infrastructure to really create the solutions and tie them together is broadband.”
The wireless system serves as a model and possible resource for rural communities interested in offering high-speed internet to residents. The Kearney wifi offers benefits to the partners that helped make it a reality. Orange Silicon Valley is working on bringing internet to remote places in Africa and India.
“They wanted a test facility, a place and a relationship for research and development in their backyard,” Youtsey said. “We have conditions at Kearney that are similar to the rural areas around the world where they work.”
Kearney was the first UC ANR REC to be equipped with connectivity to serve as a field innovation center.
“Eventually, multiple centers across California will have the infrastructure to test and evaluate technology in the places where food grows in California,” Youtsey said. “Robots are starting to come out of the lab and need to be tested in farm fields pruning fruit trees, suckering grapes, harvesting crops. As these technologies are developed, we have great facilities with almost infinite flexibility, compared to commercial farms. We can demonstrate these new technologies for farmers.”
The VINE is working with the Western Growers Association – which brings together farmers in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico to support common goals – and the organization's new Center for Innovation and Technology. WGA hosts regular AgTechx sessions in which farmers and ag entrepreneurs share ideas, innovations, issues and concerns regarding technology. At a recent Coalinga meeting, a farmer panel presented problems for which they are seeking technological solutions.
- With new regulations from California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, farmers need to find a way to measure how much water they are applying and how much of that water is recharging the aquifer, said William Bourdeau of Harris Ranch.
- “Food safety keeps me up at night. We need better supply chain data,” said Garrett Patricio of Westside Produce.
- “We're using mid-20th century technology on the farm. There's a tremendous problem with connectivity. It starts with that,” Patricio said.
- If robots and other technology are deployed on farms, producers need reliable tech support to prevent lengthy stoppages, which can have devastating economic impacts, said Patricio.
- Pistachios are alternate bearing. “We need to have a way to know which trees don't need as much water,” said Richard Mataion of the California Pistachio Commission.
Farmer Don Cameron of Terranova Ranch said agriculture has already come a long way, implementing moisture monitoring sensors, consulting aerial photos of the crop, and equipping irrigation managers with tablet computers.
“If the technology is profitable, and we can make it work, it will catch on,” he said.
To accelerate ag, food and natural resources technology, UC ANR and AgStart receive $500,000 to cultivate the VINE
California is constantly being challenged by pest invasions, obesity, labor shortages, water scarcity, food insecurity, climate change and more. To accelerate the development and adoption of technologies that address these challenges and advance food, agriculture and natural resources in California, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and AgStart will receive a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to cultivate the Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship (the VINE)
Like a grapevine, the VINE will connect existing clusters of innovation across California and link entrepreneurs with mentors, advisors, collaborators, events, competitions, education and other services to turn good ideas into products and services people can use.
“We want to make sure every Californian has the support system to take a novel idea and commercialize a new product or start a new business,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “They don't have to be a university inventor, they could be a farmer or a young person.”
AgStart itself was established with an EDA i6 Challenge grant to assist agriculture and food technology entrepreneurs in the Sacramento Valley region. Since 2012, AgStart has supported more than 58 entrepreneurs and their companies.
“In 2016, of the 16 entrepreneurial companies that AgStart assisted, eight resided outside our region, and leveraged AgStart's program to make connections into our Sacramento Valley region,” said John Selep, president of AgTech Innovation Alliance, AgStart's sponsor.
“The VINE will expand this AgStart model of connecting entrepreneurs to the resources they need to be successful, to enable entrepreneurs residing anywhere in California to connect to the clusters of resources, contacts, mentors and potential partners that have emerged across the state,” said Selep.
UC Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors, who work in every county, can provide insight into real-world conditions that entrepreneurs should consider in the development stage. UC ANR's nine research and extension centers can provide locations to field-test products and demonstrate their effectiveness. For example, start-up Blue River is testing its technology by flying a drone over sorghum crops to collect data at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.
“The VINE is really exciting because of its potential to unite all the regions of California in an innovation ecosystem for food, agriculture and natural resources,” said Youtsey. “Not only will it help bridge the Silicon Valley and Bay Area with California's food-producing valleys, but it will bring opportunities for our innovators and entrepreneurs in rural communities in every part of California to participate.”
The VINE, which is working with UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health and Valley Vision, is being structured to complement other efforts to establish food, agriculture, and natural resources incubation and innovation resources in cluster locations around the state, such as the BlueTechValley Regional Innovation Cluster, the Western Growers Innovation & Technology Center, UC Merced's VentureLab and others.
Youtsey and Selep are seeking more VINE partners with expertise across the business spectrum.
“If our vision is successful, the VINE will make California the most fertile region in the world for entrepreneurs in ag and food technology to establish themselves, to prosper and grow,” Selep said.