Associations, Organizations, Educational and Research Institutions

Nominations Open for the 2023 Common Threads Awards

By Rebecca Quist, Common Threads Committee Chair

The Common Threads Committee is pleased to announce
nominations are being accepted for the 27th Annual Common Threads
Awards honoring women in agriculture. Honorees are selected from
Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties for their
remarkable contributions to agriculture and philanthropic
stewardship.

We invite you to nominate worthy women who have deep roots in
agriculture and have made a significant difference within the
agricultural industry and their communities. The completed
nomination packet, with a cover letter, must be received in the
California Agricultural Leadership Foundation (CALF) office by December 12, 2022:

Attention: Mia Mirassou
CALF
80 Garden Ct, Suite 270
Monterey, CA 93940
Email: mmirassou@agleaders.org

A pdf version of the nomination form is available at www.agleaders.org.
Letters of recommendation are encouraged, but not required; however,
no more than three letters of recommendation may be submitted. If you
need further clarification or additional information, please call Mia
Mirassou at CALF at (831) 585-1030.

A luncheon recognizing the honorees will be scheduled in March or
April 2023. CALF, Ag One Foundation and the Jordan College of
Agricultural Sciences and Technology will host the luncheon.

2022-12-02T16:15:51-08:00December 2nd, 2022|

California Farm Bureau Reacts to Initial 5% Water Allocation

By Peter Hecht, California Farm Bureau

The California Department of Water Resources on Thursday announced an initial allocation of just 5% of requested 2023 water supplies from the State Water Project. This comes after this year and 2021 both yielded final water allocations of 5%.

“Here we go again,” said California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson. “This means that 23 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland are facing another year of uncertainty and economic hardships. California has failed to act on critical projects to provide additional water storage, stormwater capture and groundwater recharge that are needed to protect our farms and cities from water shortages in dry years.

“California’s dismal leadership in safeguarding our water resources harms our food production as consumers face rising prices at the grocery store. It also undercuts healthy crop production, which helps reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. California must have a more coherent water plan. Our drought strategy cannot solely be a policy of managing scarcity.”

2022-12-02T15:54:36-08:00December 2nd, 2022|

New Tool Calculates Crop Rotation Costs, Benefits for California Rice Growers

By Mike Hsu, UCANR

Due to severe water shortages, rice acres planted in California plummeted by 37% from 2021 to 2022, according to numbers released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. But now, thanks to University of California researchers, growers have a new tool they could potentially use to cope with droughts and other environmental and socioeconomic changes.

A crop rotation calculator provides farmers in the Sacramento Valley – where 97% of California rice is grown – with projections on the economic impacts of transitioning their fields from rice into four less water-intensive crops: dry beans, safflower, sunflower or tomato.

The tool represents an initial attempt to address the dearth of research on rice crop rotation in California, while giving growers much-needed, science-backed data on whether the practice would make financial sense for their farms.

“I believe more rice growers could benefit from the many advantages of crop rotation, and this new tool is an excellent first step by the UC to help growers look into making such a transition,” said George Tibbitts, a Colusa County rice farmer.

Funded in part by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, the calculator is a collaborative effort of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Integrated Pest Management and UC Davis to fill a major gap in rice research.

“I do think there are people who would have tried rotational crops in the past, but it’s just so unknown, we didn’t have anything we could give them and be like, ‘Hey, this is the recommended crop for your area,’” said Whitney Brim-DeForest, UC Cooperative Extension rice advisor. “This tool gives them some preliminary data they can use to make a more informed decision.”

Crop Rotation a Potential Boon to Growers, Environment

UC Davis doctoral student Sara Rosenberg and Brim-DeForest, alongside other members of the UC rice research team, surveyed California rice growers in 2020 on their experiences with and perceptions of crop rotation. Although the practice is rare in the Sacramento Valley (only an estimated 10% of rice acreage is under rotation), some farmers reported benefits that could be crucial in a water-scarce future.

“From having conversations with growers who do rotate, one of the biggest benefits they describe is their flexibility in times of drought, where they can keep producing on their land when there isn’t enough water to grow rice,” said Rosenberg, noting that crop rotation could be one option in a “toolbox” of strategies that growers also use to manage fertilizer price shocks, herbicide resistance and other challenges.

During the ongoing drought that caused about half of California’s rice acreage to go fallow in 2022, Tibbitts said his water district was only able to allocate 10% of his usual allotment.
“With such a limited supply, it would have been tough to grow even one field of rice,” he said. “But it was enough water so that we could rent two of our fields to a tomato grower – tomatoes under drip irrigation use much less water than a flooded field of rice. We were also able to grow one field of sunflowers, which doesn’t need any irrigation at all if you can plant the seeds into existing moisture in the early spring.”

While drought is one motivating factor to rotate crops, Tibbitts said that on principle he avoids planting all his acreage in rice and “not have all (his) eggs in one basket.”
“My primary motivation for rotating into and out of rice has been to help with weed and disease control,” he added. “Crop rotation is a primary tool of IPM (integrated pest management), and I feel it has helped me greatly over the years.”

According to Brim-DeForest, rotating cropping systems can allow for the use of different weed control tools, such as different herbicide modes of action, and different cultural controls such as tillage, reducing the chances of selecting for herbicide-resistant weeds – an increasingly pervasive issue in rice systems.

Rosenberg noted that, in some situations – and depending on the crops in rotation – the practice can also disrupt the life cycles of insects and diseases and potentially improve soil structure and increase nutrient cycling and uptake, which may lead to a reduction in inputs such as fertilizer.

More Research on Crop Diversification Needed in Rice Systems

The benefits of crop rotation for California rice growers are largely theoretical and anecdotal, however, so the UC rice team is looking to add evidence-based grounding through a variety of studies – from looking at long-term effects on soil health indicators to testing various cover crops (which may deliver some benefits of diversification, similar to those of rotation).

“In California, there is no quantitative data on crop rotation in rice,” said Brim-DeForest. “You’d think after a hundred and some odd years (of UC agricultural research), all the research would have been done, but, no – there’s tons still to do.”

Through interviews with Sacramento Valley growers, researchers found that cost was frequently mentioned as a barrier to trying crop rotation, along with incompatible soil conditions and a lack of equipment, knowledge and experience.

To help clarify those economic uncertainties, the new calculator tool allows growers to enter baseline information specific to their circumstances – whether they rent or own their own land, whether they contract out the work to plant the rotational crop, and other factors. The calculator then generates potential costs and benefits of staying in rice versus rotating to dry beans, safflower, sunflower or tomato, during the first year and in an “average” year for those crops.

The upfront costs of rotation during “year one” can be daunting. Therefore, the tool only focuses on a short-term profitability perspective. Researchers are currently working on longer term modeling for crop rotation – incorporating the possibility of reduced herbicide use over time, and under different crop yield scenarios, for example – that could significantly change the growers’ calculus.

“You could actually be profitable in the long term, whereas this first, short glimpse is showing you a negative,” said Rosenberg.

In addition, thanks to collaboration with the UC IPM team, the rice rotation calculator is an evolving tool that will be continually improved based on user feedback and additional data. Brim-DeForest also said that it could be adapted to other cropping systems – for example, alfalfa going into another rotational crop.

The rice calculator tool can be found at: https://rice-rotation-calculator.ipm.ucanr.edu/.

Other contributors to the project include Bruce Linquist, Luis Espino, Ellen Bruno, Kassim Al-Khatib and Michelle Leinfelder-Miles of UCCE; Cameron Pittelkow of UC Davis; as well as UC IPM team members Chinh Lam, Tunyalee Martin and Hanna Zorlu; and the California rice growers and industry members who participated in the research.

2022-12-01T13:56:46-08:00December 1st, 2022|

New Interactive Web Tools Help Growers Cope With Climate Change

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

UCCE, USDA California Climate Hub launch CalAgroClimate decision-support tool

Climate and weather variability pose increasing risks to farmers. As world leaders gather in Egypt at COP27 to address the climate crisis, University of California Cooperative Extension and the USDA California Climate Hub are launching new web-based tools to provide farmers with locally relevant and crop-specific information to make production decisions that reduce risk.

“Integrating historical weather data and forecast information with meaningful agricultural decision support information holds the potential to reduce a crop’s vulnerability to such risks,” said Tapan Pathak, UC Cooperative Extension climate adaptation specialist at UC Merced.

“To provide easy access to high-resolution data in the form of agroclimate tools and information, and to enhance agricultural resilience to climate and weather-related risks, we are launching CalAgroClimate,” Pathak said.

Pathak is collaborating on building the decision support tool with partners from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, California Climate Hub, UC Cooperative Extension and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Informatics and Geographic Information Systems or IGIS.

“CalAgroClimate has been designed to support climate-enabled decision making for those working in the California specialty crop industry,” said Steven Ostoja, director of USDA California Climate Hub. “The USDA California Climate Hub is a proud collaborator on this important initiative to ensure the state’s agricultural industry can continue to thrive in a future of climate change.”

Shane Feirer and Robert Johnson of UC ANR IGIS designed the interactive tools on the website and Lauren Parker of the USDA California Climate Hub contributed to content organization.An advisory panel composed of colleagues from UCCE and the Natural Resources Conservation Service ensures CalAgroClimate tools are relevant to stakeholder needs.

“CalAgroClimate is an amazing new tool that puts comprehensive past and forecast weather data at any grower’s disposal,” said Mark Battany, UC Cooperative Extension water management and biometeorology advisor for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

“California’s high-value crops are subject to a myriad of weather-related risk factors; this tool will allow growers to better address both near-term and long-term risks, and in the end grow more profitably,” said Battany, who is a member of the CalAgroClimate advisory panel.

Growers and crop consultants can use CalAgroClimate’s crop and location-specific tools and resources to help make on-farm decisions, such as preparing for frost or untimely rain and taking advantage of expected favorable conditions.

CalAgroClimate currently includes heat advisory, frost advisory, crop phenology and pest advisory tools.

Heat advisory tool: Extreme heat poses a danger for people, animals and crops. With this tool, users can select location and temperature threshold (e.g. 90 F, 95 F 100 F) based on their crop-specific heat tolerance level and the tool will provide a customized map of heat risk for the next seven days for that location, including the number of consecutive days with temperature above that threshold. Users also can assess overall heat risks across the state for a selected temperature threshold as well. With an early warning about hot temperatures, growers can take steps to reduce risks associated with extreme heat such as providing shade, changing farmworkers’ schedules and applying additional irrigation.

Frost advisory tool: Frost risk is a serious issue for many specialty crops across California. Similar to the heat advisory tool, this tool provides a customized map of frost advisory for the next seven days for a user’s location, and a forecast of consecutive days with temperature falling below the selected temperature thresholds (e.g. 35 F, 32 F, 28 F). Early warning about cold temperatures can provide growers some time to protect their crops from frost damage.

Crop phenology tool: The scientists have developed a-crop specific and location-specific crop phenology tool to help users keep track of growing degree days accumulations and estimate critical growth stages. CalAgroClimate uses a high-resolution PRISM dataset to provide near real-time crop phenology information to users. This tool will inform growers about how their crop development compares to previous years, which can be helpful in planning activities specific to critical growth stages.

Pest advisory tool: Similar to crop growth, development of certain pests and diseases is controlled by temperature and heat unit accumulations. With the pest advisory tool, growers can keep track of estimated pest generations during the growing season to make pest management decisions.

“We are launching the website with this initial set of tools while working on adding more crop-specific information and several new tools in the near future,” Pathak said. “We look forward to getting feedback from growers who use CalAgroClimate to make it even more useful.”

2022-11-22T09:16:52-08:00November 22nd, 2022|

Western Growers Debuts ‘Real Farmers Care’ Video for Thanksgiving

By Ann Donahue, Western Growers

The documentary short features California farmers showing how – and why – they provide safe, nutritious food for consumers

Western Growers is debuting a documentary short video online for Thanksgiving that demonstrates the care California farmers put into growing the food that will be consumed this holiday season.

The video features Colby Pereira, Braga Fresh Family Farms; Martin Jefferson, Duda Farm Fresh Foods; Mark Mason, Huntington Farms; and Jynel Gularte, Rincon Farms.

“Real farmers care about you, the consumer – your health, your safety, the quality and flavor of your fresh produce,” Mason says in the video. “Because we feed our families the same fruits and vegetables we feed yours.”

A link and embed to the video are provided below; it can now also be viewed on the Western Growers YouTube channel, and on WG social platforms.

Real Farmers Care: https://youtu.be/irYNlObMnOU

2022-11-22T08:14:34-08:00November 22nd, 2022|

New Proposed Decision Released for Net-Energy Metering (NEM) 3.0

This month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) released a new Proposed Decision (PD) for the Net Energy Metering Program, which they are now referring to as Net Billing Tariff (NEM 3.0). Below is a summary of some of the key points:

• The PD proposes to maintain an annual true-up.

• The PD proposes no changes to the NEM 1.0 or NEM 2.0 tariffs and customers will be able to remain on those tariffs as long as they do not significantly add to the existing project for 20 years from their initial interconnection date.

• The NEM 3.0 start date is a little vague, but if a completed application (that does not have significant and substantial errors) is submitted within 120 days of the final decision, the project will be  able to take service under the NEM 2.0 program.

• The PD proposes for non-residential customers to get credited for excess power based on the “avoided cost calculator.” This rate will be approximately between $0.06-$0.08/kWh. Projects that  have an energy storage component, such as a battery, will get a higher compensation rate.

• The PD proposes no changes to the NEM Aggregation program.

The CPUC hearing is set for next month. The Association will continue to closely monitor the issue. Click here for the full proposed decision.

2022-11-22T08:09:54-08:00November 22nd, 2022|

Asian Citrus Psyllid Study: Vigilance Urged but ‘No Cause for Panic’

By Mike Hsu, UCANR

Preliminary results indicate 3.5% of ACP collected showed signs of bacterium that can cause huanglongbing

An ongoing study in the commercial citrus groves of coastal Southern California is looking at whether Asian citrus psyllids – the insect vector of huanglongbing “citrus greening” disease – are carrying the bacterium that can cause HLB.

Thus far, the project has tested more than 3,000 adult ACP collected from 15 commercial citrus sites across the region, of which 138 – just over 3.5% – had some level of the bacterium present, according to researchers from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Davis, UC Riverside and the University of Arizona, Tucson.

“While the results are a cause for concern, the situation in California is much better than in Florida and Texas, where ACP carrying the bacterium make up the majority of the population and HLB is widespread in commercial citrus,” said Neil McRoberts, a UC Davis plant pathologist and UC Integrated Pest Management program affiliate advisor. “The results indicate that there is no room for complacency, but also no cause for panic.”

Since the first HLB-infected tree in California was found in 2012, nearly 4,000 infected trees have been detected and removed from residential properties in Southern California, mainly in Orange and Los Angeles counties. According to McRoberts, “to date, no HLB has been found in commercial citrus” in California.

He stressed, however, that the aforementioned ACP study – funded by the HLB Multi Agency Coordination Group and managed by USDA-APHIS – does not involve any testing of trees for HLB and focuses only on looking at the insect which spreads the bacterium.

McRoberts also emphasized that the project’s detections of the bacterium cannot be considered “official” because the researchers’ lab procedures differ from the official testing protocols of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“Follow-up sampling by CDFA staff would allow official samples to be collected for further investigation, but is entirely voluntary for the growers involved,” he said, adding that his research team is currently wrapping up the sampling phase of the project, with data analysis continuing into 2023.

While commending the “huge coordinated effort” by the California citrus industry, California Department of Food and Agriculture, UC ANR and other partners to suppress the ACP vector and slow the spread of HLB, McRoberts also urged continued vigilance.

“Our study results indicate that it is not time to declare the emergency status for ACP/HLB in California over – the situation is still evolving,” he said.

2022-11-21T11:20:37-08:00November 21st, 2022|

Virtual Course on Nitrogen Management in Organic Production Offered by UCCE

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Growers of organic vegetables and strawberries across California are invited to attend an online training to learn how to manage nitrogen fertilization. UC Cooperative Extension is offering the three-part Nitrogen Planning and Management in Organic Production of Annual Crops Workshop on Nov. 29, Dec. 5 and Dec. 12.
Growers, certified crop advisers, pest control advisers and other agricultural professionals who are interested in learning about nitrogen management in organically farmed crops are encouraged to enroll.

The workshop is also available in Spanish.

Tuesday, Nov. 29, 1-3 p.m. – Part 1: Understanding nitrogen: the nutrient, the role of microbes and the relevance of soil organic matter. Daniel Geisseler, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in nutrient management at UC Davis; Radomir Schmidt, program manager for the Working Lands Innovation Center at the UC Davis Institute of the Environment; and Margaret Lloyd, UCCE small farms advisor will give an overview of the sources, transformations and fates of nitrogen in soil. They also will discuss the role and dynamics of microbes in nitrogen management, and how nitrogen fixation impacts management decisions.

Monday, Dec. 5, 1-3 p.m. – Part 2: Estimating nitrogen release from organic amendments and contributions from cover crops. Patricia Lazicki, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Lloyd will discuss estimating nitrogen release from compost, organic fertilizers, cover crops and crop residue and irrigation water.

Monday Dec. 12, 1-3 p.m. – Part 3: Putting it all together: Completing a nitrogen budget, synchronizing nitrogen release with nitrogen demand, and using soil tests. Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist; Richard Smith, UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops advisor; and Lloyd will address nuances of organic soil fertility management in vegetables. Discussions will include crop nitrogen demand and strategies to supply demand, as well as using and interpreting soil testing. Specific references will be made to strategies for complying with forthcoming regulations. The session will conclude with a discussion on new frontiers in organic nitrogen management.

Registration for the virtual event is $25 and includes all three classes. A single registration can be shared by members of the same farm. Space is limited to 75 participants. To register, visit https://ucanr.edu/organiccrops22.

Participants may earn six hours of CDFA-INMTP continuing education credits (formerly CURES CE Credits) or six hours of CCA credits.

For more information, contact Margaret Lloyd at (530) 564-8642 or mglloyd@ucanr.edu.

2022-11-16T11:03:40-08:00November 16th, 2022|

UCCE Water Management Expert Helps Save Water, Increase Supply in SoCal

By Saoimanu Sope, UCANR

Earlier this year, officials in Southern California declared a water shortage emergency resulting in restrictions such as limiting outdoor water use to one day of the week. While mandatory restrictions vary across the region, Amir Haghverdi, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and associate professor of agricultural and urban water management at UC Riverside, is using research to pinpoint irrigation strategies that will help communities reduce their demand for water and increase supply.

Haghverdi and his team are responding to a hotter and drier California by working to identify changes that can make a substantial difference in water savings.

While behavioral changes such as preventing leaks and turning the faucet off while brushing teeth can help, Haghverdi’s research focuses on methodical changes like stressing green spaces, planting drought-tolerant plant species, using non-traditional water sources, and investing in technology to better control water use.

Testing a lawn’s limits

For six years, Haghverdi and his team have performed stress tests on turfgrass to identify the lowest percent of evapotranspiration rate (ETo) that it can withstand and still survive. To do this, Haghverdi’s team applies different percentages of ETo, obtained from weather stations, and monitors the performance of each landscape species over time.
While both cool-season and warm-season species can be stressed and still maintain their aesthetic value for a few weeks to several months, Haghverdi’s results showed that warm-season turfgrass species require less water and can withstand water stress better.

The actual duration that people can apply less water depends on the type of turfgrass, the weather conditions and the stress level. For example, results showed that hybrid bermudagrass (a warm-season turfgrass) during summer in inland Southern California could keep its aesthetic value above the minimum threshold for 30 to 50 days, depending on the weather conditions, with irrigation application as low as 40% ETo.

In contrast, tall fescue, a cool-season turfgrass, even with 20% more water, showed signs of stress after only a few weeks and could not maintain its minimum acceptable quality.

Plant drought-tolerant species

Haghverdi’s work demonstrates that when water conservation is the goal, alternative groundcover species are clearly superior to all turfgrass species and cultivars that they have tested so far. In fact, his team has identified drought-tolerant species that can maintain their aesthetic values with a third to a quarter less water than cool-season turfgrass (as low as 20% ETo) and can even withstand no-irrigation periods.

Furthermore, extensive field trials showed that new plant species from different regions could be as resilient as native species in withstanding drought and heat stress while maintaining their aesthetic beauty and cool canopy. Occasionally, they have outperformed native species, underscoring the advantages of drought- and heat-tolerant species that are non-native.
Based on Haghverdi’s preliminary results for minimum irrigation requirement in inland Southern California, creeping Australian saltbush, a non-native species originally from Australia, and coyote bush, native to California, were top performers. Considering cooling benefits, drought tolerance and sensitivity to over-irrigation, creeping Australian saltbush performed the best.
Ph.D. students Anish Sapkota and Jean Claude Iradukunda collect plant physiological data to understand how native and non-native irrigated groundcover species respond to periods of water stress and limited irrigation applications in inland Southern California.

Counties are already using recycled water

Although he recommends renewing your landscape with drought-tolerant or low-water use greenery and identifying how long your green spaces can live without water, Haghverdi acknowledges that, while contradictory, the cooling benefits of landscape irrigation are essential in Southern California.

“This is one of the tradeoffs of water conservation,” said Haghverdi. “If the only goal is to conserve water, maybe people will conclude that we don’t have enough water to irrigate landscape.”

Water conservation efforts could influence counties to stop or reduce landscape irrigation. The consequences, however, would result in hotter environments due to the heat island effect. The loss of landscapes means that the sun’s energy will be absorbed into the ground, instead of prompting transpiration in plants, which helps keep environments cool.

Thus, stressing green spaces and investing in drought-tolerant plant species help reduce the demand for water, but increasing water supply is just as vital. Haghverdi urges Southern California counties to prioritize a supplemental water supply such as recycled water – an approach already implemented in Ventura, Orange and San Diego counties.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Pure Water Southern California Program, formerly known as the Regional Recycled Water Program, aims to do just that. In partnership with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, the program will further purify wastewater to produce a sustainable source of high-quality water for the region.

According to the program’s website, this would “produce up to 150 million gallons of water daily when completed and provide purified water for up to 15 million people, making it one of the largest water reuse programs in the world.”

Smart controllers save time, money and water

Making the best use of the water you already have relies on efficiency. Sprinklers that are poorly placed, for example, are not as effective as they could be.

“What I see often while walking my dog in the neighborhood is that there’s a lot of runoff, bad irrigation and bad timing like when it’s windy,” Haghverdi observed. “People usually set their irrigation timer and then forget it, but they don’t adjust it based on the season or weather parameters. That’s not going to help us conserve water, a precious resource, in California.”

Thankfully, Haghverdi and his team have done extensive research on smart irrigation controllers, which, simply put, are irrigation timers with a sensor built in. Generally, there are two types of smart irrigation controllers: weather- and soil-based controllers.

Weather-based controllers use evapotranspiration data to automatically adjust their watering schedule according to local weather conditions. Soil-based controllers measure moisture at the root zone and start irrigating whenever the reading falls below a programmed threshold.

Smart controllers that have flowmeters can detect leaks and be activated automatically, whereas rain sensors can stop irrigation during rainfall. Although both additions are ideal for large irrigation landscapes such as parks and publicly maintained green spaces, rain sensors are easy to install and effective for residential areas too.

When asked about cost being a hindrance, Haghverdi responded, “Not a lot of people know that there are grants for smart controllers – some that will pay either all or a majority of the cost.”

To check if grants are available in your area, interested individuals are encouraged to contact their local water provider.

“We need to move towards autonomous and smart irrigation [strategies], and water management in urban areas. That’s the future. If we can build autonomous cars, why can’t we build smart water management systems that apply the right amount of water to each plant species, can detect leaks and prevent water waste?” said Haghverdi.

To learn more about or stay updated on Haghverdi’s research, visit www.ucrwater.com.

2022-11-15T13:09:22-08:00November 15th, 2022|

Farm Robotics Competition Challenges Students to Solve Real-World Problems

By Hanif Houston

College students are invited to develop a robot that makes farm work easier while competing for cash prizes and bragging rights in the Farm Robotics Challenge, a three-month robotics development competition running from Feb. 1 to May 13, 2023.

The challenge is being sponsored by The VINE, an initiative of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources focused on agricultural innovation, in partnership with the AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS), farm-ng robotics company, and the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation coalition.

“Our primary objective for the Farm Robotics Challenge is to empower young innovators to explore careers in agriculture technology and innovation,” said Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer for UC ANR and head of the VINE. “The agrifood technology industry is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing sectors in the economy right now, estimated to reach $30.5 billion by 2050. Yet, because of a lack of exposure or access, our brightest minds end up entering other sectors, taking their talents and abilities with them. We hope this new competition changes that and reverses the talent flow back into agriculture.”

“In order to have a next-generation food system, we need next-generation agricultural robotics developers,” said Steve Brown, AIFS associate director. “There is tremendous innovation potential in this domain that just needs more connecting points to the coders and makers.”

The Farm Robotics Challenge is open to any university or college in the U.S. Student teams will be asked to address a production farming topic on any crop or size of farm, with a desired focus on small farms, by automating an essential farm-related task using the farm-ng robotics platform. Each campus will need to purchase a farm-ng robot or borrow one to participate in the challenge.

Specific challenges will either be pre-identified for teams to choose from, or teams may choose to create additional or custom functionality to solve a self-identified challenge. Challenges will fit into one or more of the following categories: autonomy, artificial intelligence or attachment. Virtual training sessions will be offered throughout the competition to provide teams with expert guidance and technical help from AIFS, farm-ng, The VINE and other partners.

Student teams will be judged on the following criteria, with a grand prize and several specific prizes for top teams in each category: accuracy and completeness, market fit and commercial potential, design elegance and ease of use, cost-effectiveness, safety, interdisciplinary inclusion, and social and economic impact. Winners will receive cash prizes and connections to robotic companies for internships and jobs, among other benefits.

For more information, please visit the Farm Robotics Challenge website at https://farmbot.ai. If you have questions, contact Hanna Bartram, AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems project coordinator, at hcbartram@ucdavis.edu.

2022-11-11T09:04:22-08:00November 11th, 2022|
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