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Open Farm 2018 and UC ANR promote ag technology

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.”

Kearney REC director Jeff Dahlberg speaks to participants at Open Farm.

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.

Representatives of PowWow Energy meet with Open Farm participants near a well at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

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.

UCCE specialist Ali Pourreza compares a citrus leaf infected with HLB with one that is not infected.

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.

Posted on Monday, October 8, 2018 at 2:59 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Innovation

Open Farm paves the way for technology adaptation in agriculture

The Third Annual Open Farm comes to the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier Oct. 3. Open Farm is a gathering hosted each year by the farming community to connect technology vendors, academics and growers to accelerate the digital transformation of the food and agriculture sector.

The meeting runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Registration is free for growers and government employees; $20 for representatives of power and water utilities; and $40 for vendors. Register on the Eventbrite webpage. (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/3rd-annual-open-farm-tickets-48793567875) Continuing education credits will be offered.

The Kearney REC is at 9240 S. Riverbend Ave., Parlier, Calif.

Technology demonstrations like this one at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center will be part of Open Farm Oct. 3, 2018.

The Open Farm event features:

  • Keynote address by Glenda Humiston, vice president, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • Field demonstrations of 3D mapping of research fields using drones, automation of irrigation and fertigation, and comparison of water measurement methods to prepare for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
  • Peer reviewed research presentations on agronomy, monitoring, robotics and data mining
  • An industry panel with growers and food processors

Open Farm 2018 sponsors and partners are:

  • UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR)
  • The VINE, Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship
  • West Hills College, Coalinga
  • California State University, Fresno
  • BlueTechValley
  • PowWow Energy
  • WiseConn Engineering
  • Pumpsight
  • Blue River Technologies
  • Bowles Farming Company

Open Farm started in 2016 at Terranova Ranch with the support of a research grant from the California Energy Commission (EPC-14-081). In 2017, the event grew to a wider gathering with peer-reviewed presentations organized by UC ANR and field demonstrations led by West Hills College. Both organizations are involved in the broadband initiative to bring better broadband services in the Central Valley.

“The future of ag tech innovation and implementation on the West Side depends on access to broadband internet in the fields,” said Terry Brase, ag science instructor at West Hills Community College. “West Hills is proud to partner with UC ANR to champion an initiative that would make this possible for local growers.”

PowWow Energy, Pumpsight and WiseConn Engineering are examples of companies that have worked with the farming community and established application programmable interfaces (API) that allow farmers to protect their data and get the different applications to talk to each other.

“It makes the lives of growers easier, not harder,” said Olivier Jerphagon, founder and CEO of PowWow Energy, Inc.

The three vendors went through the Water Energy Technology (WET) center at Fresno State, which is one of the incubators in California connected by the VINE.

“Agriculture needs standards to support the better integration of systems and data to make using technology easier and less expensive, while protecting the privacy of farms,” said Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer. “We need to work together across industry, academia and government to share best practices and form partnerships to solve real problems and adapt the integration of software and data to the needs agriculture. This is why we started the VINE.”

The VINE – the Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship – is a connected community of innovators and resources that sustainable agriculture and food innovators can leverage, including incubators, research labs, field testing facilities, mentors and industry experts.

“The food and agriculture industry is changing fast, and for an organization like ours to add value, we have to understand the diversity of innovation that is happening in the industry,” said Helle Petersen of Fresno State's WET Center. “The VINE community helps us navigate the field, and leverages the many assets of our region. The Open Farm is one of those opportunities, a unique event that brings together researchers, farmers, industry and others to share their knowledge, best practices and find opportunities for partnerships.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
Tags: Gabe Youtsey (3), technology (13), VINE (1)
Focus Area Tags: Innovation

Connectivity is key for high-tech farms of the future

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.

Workers at Kearney raise a tower to blanket the 330-acre research center with high-speed wireless internet. (Photo: Julie Sievert)

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.

Orange Silicon Valley is a division of Orange in France, a telecommunications provider. BlueTown, based in Denmark, provides low-cost, sustainable wifi to people in rural areas around the world.

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.”

UC ANR chief innovation officer Gabe Youtsey, left, moderates a panel at AgTechx.

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.

Posted on Monday, July 23, 2018 at 8:59 AM
Tags: Gabe Youtsey (3), technology (13), The VINE (2)

College students to build apple-picking robots in ASABE competition

For the 2018 ASABE Student Robotics Challenge, teams will simulate the mechanical harvest and storage of apples.

Nineteen teams of college students from top universities in the U.S., Canada and China will compete to build robots to mechanize farm work at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Annual International Meeting in Detroit.

The 2018 ASABE Student Robotics Challenge, being organized by Alireza Pourreza, University of California Cooperative Extension agricultural mechanization specialist, will be held on July 31.

“The labor availability for agriculture is decreasing while the need for more food is increasing to feed the growing world population,” said Pourreza, who is based in the UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. “So agriculture should switch to technologies that are less labor-dependent, such as using more robots, to overcome this challenge.”

Ali Pourreza, shown flying a drone to collect crop data, is organizing the 2018 ASABE Student Robotics Challenge.

The ASABE Student Robotics Challenge provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills of robotics in agriculture.

“The goal of this event is to encourage young agricultural engineers to get involved in building robots for agricultural applications and to get experienced as the next generation of farmers,” Pourreza said.

The challenge will be to simulate the harvest and storage of apples, a crop commercially grown in several states. The students will design and operate robots that will autonomously harvest “apples” on field that measures 8 feet by 8 feet. The robots will harvest eight mature apples (red ping-pong balls), remove and dispose of eight diseased or rotten apples (blue ping-pong balls) and leave eight immature apples (green ping-pong balls) on the tree.

This year, the competitors are being divided into a beginner division and an advanced division.

Beginner Teams

California Polytechnic State University        Green and Gold Mustangs
China Agricultural College                          China Ag, Beginners
McGill University                                       We Are Groots
Purdue                                                     ABE Robotics
Purdue                                                     Harvestiers
Texas A&M                                               Texas A&M
University of California Merced                   Bobcats
University of Nebraska Lincoln                    HuskerBots 2
University of Nebraska Lincoln                    HuskerBots3
University of Wisconsin River Falls               Falcon Robotics
Zhejiang University                                    ZJU team 1
Zhejiang University                                    ZJU team 2
Clemson University                                    CARA

Advanced Teams

China Agricultural College                             Dream
McGill University                                          Agrobots
University of Georgia                                    UGA Engineers
University of California – Davis                      Ag-Botics
University of Florida                                      RoboGators
University of Nebraska Lincoln                       HuskerBots 1

The competition will be held in Cobo Center Exhibit Hall, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit, Michigan. There will be three rounds throughout the day and each team will participate once in each round.

The 2017 robotics challenge was to simulate raspberry cane thinning, removing green canes and pruning the yellow canes.

For more information, visit the 2018 ASABE robotics competition website: https://www.asabe.org/Awards-Competitions/Student-Awards-Competitions-Scholarships/Robotics-Student-Design-Competition.

Video of 2016 competition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1ymUiCr3Mc

Video of 2017 competition: https://vimeo.com/250379863

 

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 at 2:12 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Innovation

GivingGarden wins top prize in Apps for Ag hackathon

From left, GivingGarden team members GivingGarden team members are Scott Kirkland, Josh Livni, Deema Tamimi and John Knoll.

A gardening and produce-sharing app took top prize in the Apps for Ag hackathon, after contestants pitched judges at the California State Fair in Sacramento on Sunday (July 17). The first place team, GivingGarden, took home $7,500 in prize money, custom rodeo belt buckles and a six-month, top-tier membership to the AgStart Incubator in Woodland.

From left, Sense and Protect's Anthony Johnson, with Rina DiMare of the California State Fair, Dhrubajyoti Das, Peter Swanson and Alex Avalos with ANR CIO Gabriel Youtsey.
The hyper-local, produce-sharing app provides gardening advice from the UC Master Gardener Program and enables backyard gardeners to connect with others who want to share their produce. The GivingGarden team members are Scott Kirkland, Josh Livni, Deema Tamimi and John Knoll.

Second place was awarded to Sense and Protect, a mobile task-management app that connects to climate sensors to protect farmworkers' health and enhance their productivity. Sense and Protect team members Dhrubajyoti Das, Alex Avalos, Anthony Johnson and Peter Swanson share $4,500.

Third place went to ACP STAR System, a geo and temporal database and platform for tracking Asian citrus psyllid and other invasive pests. Team members Mark Takata and Chinh Lam share $2,500.

The top three teams will also receive complimentary startup incorporation services valued at $2,200 from Royse Law.

ACP STAR System team members Mark Takata and Chinh Lam, DiMare and Youtsey.
Compostable, which finished in fourth place, is an app and “Internet of Things” (IoT) device that diverts food waste from landfills and turns it into fertilizer and fuel so that it can be used on a farm. Sohail Khan, Nathan Azevedo, Brandon Jack, Regan King and Raheela Khan make up the Compostable team.

All of the participating teams had about 48 hours to develop their apps. Teams that were interested were offered $500 in “cloud credits” to build their solutions and host them on Amazon Web Services' platform. Teams also had access to an IoT kit to incorporate connected devices into their solution.

The top four teams pitched their apps to judges in front of a live audience at the California State Fair.

The Apps for Ag hackathon, which was sponsored by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the California State Fair and the City of Sacramento, brought together software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, farmers and others who work in agriculture.

Compostable team members Regan King, Brandon Jack, DiMare, Nathan Azevedo, Raheela Khan, Sohail Khan and Youtsey.
“It's really important for UC ANR to be involved in app development because as farmers and natural resource managers face ever-increasing challenges – climate change, invasive pests, the need to conserve water – technology is one of the ways to find solutions,” said Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“Using technology we can find better ways to reduce pesticide use, increase irrigation efficiency, reduce travel into the fields, manage people better, and deal with the fact that we have a huge labor shortage in this state,” said Humiston, who served as one of the Apps for Ag judges.

The other judges included University of California Chief Information Officer Tom Andriola, USDA Chief Data Officer Bobby Jones, and Better Food Ventures and Mixing Bowl Hub founder Rob Trice.

For more information about Apps for Ag, visit http://www.apps-for-ag.com.

 

Posted on Monday, July 18, 2016 at 3:40 PM

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