Katharine Burnett is a professor of Chinese Art History and Asian Art History at UC Davis. She spoke with California Ag Today recently about the Global Tea Initiative; a group focused on the culture and science of Tea through research outreach and teaching.
“The role of the Institute will be to tell the story of tea and all its dimensions, it will be to encourage research and to encourage interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research along with teaching,” she said.
The Global Tea Initiative wants to develop a curriculum for undergrads and grads. They plan on developing international partnerships as a research institution.
“We want to be the … institution that can help the researcher, scholar, industry member, and community member to be able to access evidence-based knowledge about tea and to help the consumer and industry better understand what it is and what it can do for us,” Burnett said.
The Global Tea Initiative is the first of its kind.
“Other institutions study their national product or their local product either from the perspective of science or from culture, but they don’t bring science and culture together and they do not study from a global perspective,” Burnett explained.
California does not have very much tea production. UC Davis hopes to be a neutral site that can be trusted by the industry, farmers, and scholars.
UC Davis Engineers, Economists, Advisors gather at World Ag Expo
By Diane Nelson, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences dean’s office
UC Davis specialists in everything from grapes to livestock to irrigation management will join staff and students at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, February 13-15, to chat with farmers, prospective students, alumni and leaders throughout the agricultural industry.
More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the 51st annual event, where 1,500 exhibitors display cutting-edge agricultural technology and equipment over a massive 2.6 million square feet of show grounds.
“We’re thrilled to be taking part in this incredible agricultural exhibition and reconnecting with alumni from the Central Valley and beyond,” said Sue Ebeler, an associate dean for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and professor of viticulture and enology. “Faculty will be in town and available to discuss current agricultural research and our Aggie Ambassadors can answer questions about our majors and campus life.”
The UC Davis team will be located in the World Ag Women’s Pavilion. In addition to Professor Ebeler, dean of undergraduate academic programs for the college, seven faculty experts will attend portions of the three-day event. They include:
Rachel Goodhue, professor and chair of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics,
Deanne Meyer, Cooperative Extension specialist in livestock waste management,
Samuel Sandoval Solis, associate Cooperative Extension specialist in water management,
Ali Pourreza, assistant Cooperative Extension specialist in agricultural mechanization and precision agriculture,
Matt Fidelibus, Cooperative Extension specialist in grape production
Anna Denicol, assistant professor and veterinarian who specializes in reproductive biology, and
Jeff Mitchell, Cooperative Extension specialist in conservation agriculture.
UC Davis is ranked number 1 in the nation for agriculture, plant sciences, animal science and agricultural economics. The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences enrolled more than 2,000 new students in the fall of 2017, many of them from California’s Central Valley. The college offers 29 majors—everything from agriculture to nutrition to global disease biology.
“Prospective students can learn about all our majors and the career paths they provide,” Ebeler said. “At the World Ag Expo, we get to meet with agricultural leaders from around the world, as well as so many passionate young people who will become tomorrow’s leaders.”
Diane Nelson, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences dean’s office, 530-752-1969, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sue Ebeler, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences dean’s office, 530-752-7150, email@example.com
Themis Michailides, a UC Davis Plant Pathologist based at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, recently told California Ag Today that almond band canker is becoming a big problem.
“This was a very old disease, and almost forgotten, but now we have major problems, particularly in the young orchards, first leaf, second leaf, third leaf, and it can also be found in six year old trees,” Michailides said.
Band canker is a fungal disease caused by a group of Botryosphaeria fungi that are very common in major crops like grapes, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, avocados, citrus and other crops, so they have a large range.
Band canker establishes itself as a spore inoculum that resides outside and also inside of orchards and waits for the right conditions, which are wetness and also high temperatures.
“It develops first like a ring, a canker that is a horizontal canker on the trunks of the trees and decays the wood and produces sap. It’s a disease that can kill young trees in the orchards,” Michailides said.
“Once you have the cankers developed in the trunks of the trees, there’s no cure, but we can prevent it by managing irrigation, trying to keep the trunks of the trees dry,” he said. “We need to develop protective sprays in order to avoid the development of the disease in young trees.”
“Once we have the water and the temperatures rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the conidia – the spores of this fungi – will germinate and infect vigorous varieties we have now through the growth cracks,” Michailides said.
“It’s getting more serious, especially now, because we see that the disease is uniformly distributed throughout the orchard, which indicates to me perhaps that the inoculum is in the trees and not coming from the outside sources. We don’t see the patterns we saw years ago, where we had the source and then a center of disease close to the source,” Michalides explained.
Vigilant Seed Bank Reduction: Whatever it takes, don’t let weeds set seed.
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
For the past 15 years, Robert Norris, professor emeritus and vegetable crops weed specialist, UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, has continued to attend Weed Day each year at UC Davis and to contribute weed photography for CalPhotos, a UC Berkeley Digital Library Project photo database of world-wide plants, animals, landscapes, and other natural history subjects developed to provide a testbed of digital images for computer science researchers to study digital image retrieval techniques. Norris was involved with initiating the Plant Protection and Pest Management Graduate Program at UC Davis.
“I’ve been a botanist since I was 14 years old,” Norris said, “and I still have a lot of passion regarding weed control.” Norris has a strong and steady philosophy on weed control and it all comes down to seeds. “The last 25 years of my work, I looked at population dynamics of weeds, like seed longevity in the soil and what we call the size of the seed bank also known as the seed production by weeds. That’s really where I spent most of my time.
“I found that most people have a very poor idea of how many seeds are produced by a weed. This led me to question some of our current management philosophies; namely, the one that comes out of entomology—the use of thresholds (or how many weeds need to be present before treating them),” noted Norris. “I felt that for weed science, thresholds were not the way to go, and my position has been vindicated by the problems we’ve run into using thresholds.”
Norris offered the example, “Barnyard grasses are probably one of our most serious summer grass weeds. A small plant can produce 100,000 seeds; while a big plant, well over a million. I can remember going put in a tomato field years ago and looking at one barnyard grass plant. Because I had been working with it, I can say that plant probably put out 50,000 seeds. If you spread those seeds around an acre, that’s enough to give you serious yield loss the next year,” Norris explained. “Again, that’s one plant, spread out over an acre. Obviously its seeds wouldn’t spread over an acre [on their own], but with our tillage equipment we would move it around quite a bit.”
“My bottom line for about 30 years now is: Don’t let the weeds set seed.Whatever it takes, don’t let them set seed,” Norris said. If you follow that philosophy, Norris said after a while you drive the seed bank down.
“Many people don’t realize this, but some of our really big growers got on to it a long time ago. One farming operation I worked with for years, J. G. Boswell Co., with most of its land in Kings County. “I knew the manager in the late ’50s, into the ’70s. He now is retired now, but he came to this conclusion himself back in the late ’50s,” Norris said. “I haven’t been on Boswell’s property now for 20 years, because I retired. However, if you go down there, you will not see a weed problem, at least not like most growers.”
“The difficulty really is, in order to carry out this philosophy, you need to use hand labor for weed management and it is becoming less and less easy to find,” explained Norris. “Most weed management is done on a one-year one-crop basis; whereas, the type of management we’re talking about where we’re really thinking seed bank dynamics, has to be done over multiple years. Another big problem that I still see is if you miss one year, you can undo 5 to 10 years of what you’ve just been doing, because of this high seed output,” he said.
Consistent Management Needed to Eradicate Bindweed
By Laurie Greene, Editor
Kassim Al-Khatib, professor, UCDavis Department of Plant Sciences and UCANR Cooperative Extension specialist in weed science, discussed field bindweed, a problematic weed that has the ability to regrow even with chemical and mechanical control.
“This is weed has been around for a long time,” Al-Khatib said. “It adapted pretty well to hot, dry land areas because it has a long root with a lot of reserve in it. Whatever you try to do, the plant still has reserve in the root and can regrow again.”
The weed scientist explained that bindweed is so problematic, it has to be assessed and managed every season in a variety of ways in order to control it. “If you do a mechanical control, the plant can come back. If you do chemical control, the plant will come back. If you think that you can control it with one shot or in one season, you’re going to be disappointed. This is a serious weed problem that requires a program with multiple approaches over multiple years,” he said.
The weed is also difficult to eradicate, according to Al-Khatib, “because there’s a huge seed bank, plus these seeds have a hard coat, which means they can stay in the soil longer. If you try to germinate some of them this year, you’re going to have more seeds coming next year.”
Al-Khatib emphasized a multiple approach is still the best way to reach consistent, effective results. “The key point with field bindweed is to be consistent, have a program and envision what you can do over multiple years to get rid of it. Herbicide may suppress and weaken bindweed, but it is not going to control it or eradicate it. You need multiple approaches—chemical, mechanical, some biological.”
He offered that mites, if they can get established, have been found to feed on field bindweed, another example of using a multi-pronged eradication approach. Mildew can also weaken it. “The point I want to make,” Al-Khatib repeated, “is it takes a multiple approach, multiple tools, and multiple years before you get rid of it.”
There is a disconnect between consumers and an understanding of where their food originates. Kelly Deming Giacomazzi is the executive coordinator for the Education and Agriculture Together Foundation—better known as the E.A.T. Foundation—a Hanford-based nonprofit that bridges this disconnect by providing educators with hands-on learning tools to teaching their students how food and other agricultural products are produced.
“They teach their students that jeans don’t just come from Old Navy or Walmart,” Giacomazzi said, “and their daily food doesn’t come from the grocery store.”
Giacomazzi said the E.A.T. Foundation offers several workshops for educators, including a 3-day “Intro to Ag” program, during which educators from all over the state are hosted by local farm families. “This is where the hands-on learning takes place. For example, educators learn to drive a tractor, siphon-irrigate, spray for bugs with a Pest Control Advisor (PCA), and visit a dairy. In the past and occasionally now, we visit the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center (VMTRC) and AgVentures! at the Heritage Complex, both of which are in Tulare County, to give teachers a brief overview of what agriculture is doing to provide food and clothes for people in the state and in the nation.”
Giacomazzi also said E.A.T. hosts a two-day workshop on water. “We tour a hydroelectric plant, a dam/reservoir area, and distribution centers,” Giacomazzi said. “We talk about water laws, environmental impacts, and farm efficiency as well.”
The Foundation also offers summer and fall harvest workshops, plus a career workshop. Giacomazzi stated, “Many scholarship funds are available for agriculture majors, yet there aren’t enough students majoring in this field.”
It Pays to be an Ag Major: Friends of Dixon May Fair Awards $12,500 in Scholarships
Seven Solano County residents majoring in agriculture will receive some financial relief when they head for their college campuses this fall, thanks to a combined total of $12,500 awarded them in college scholarships from the Friends of the Dixon May Fair.
The seven include four from Dixon; two from Vacaville, and one from Rio Vista. Most are current or former members of the 4-H youth development program. Over the last 15 years, the Friends of the Dixon May Fair, headed by Donnie Huffman of Vacaville, has awarded a total of $154,500 in college scholarships to Solano students majoring in an agricultural-related field in a California university or community college.
Olivia Ramirez of Dixon, a 2015 graduate of Dixon High School headed for California State University, Chico, received the Ester Armstrong Memorial Scholarship of $3000. Her career goal is to become a veterinarian. The award memorializes fair industry veteran Ester Armstrong of Rockville, a former director of the California Division of Fairs and Expositions who served as interim chief executive officer of the Dixon May Fair from 2006-2009. She died in May 2009 of cancer.
Jordan Dosker of Vacaville, a third-year student at California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo, received $2000. A 2012 graduate of Vacaville High School, she plans to become a veterinarian. This is the third year she has received a Friends of the Dixon May Fair award.
Marla Kogler of Rio Vista, a third-year student at California State University, Chico, received a $2000 scholarship. A 2013 graduate of Rio Vista High School, she plans to become an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. This is the third year she has received a Friends’ scholarship.
Jillian Raycraft, of Dixon, a 2015 graduate of Dixon High School, received a $2000 scholarship. She will attend Cal Poly, majoring in ag business.
Lyle Glass of Vacaville, a 2015 graduate of Vacaville High School, received the $1500 Jack Hopkins Scholarship award, memorializing a longtime Dixon resident and supporter of the Dixon May Fair. Glass will attend Woodland Community College and plans to pursue a degree in agribusiness management.
Kyle Garlick of Dixon, a second-year student at Butte Community College, received a $1000 award. A 2012 graduate of Dixon High School, he is pursuing a career in agribusiness management. This is the second year he has received a scholarship.
Nicole Talken of Dixon, a 2015 graduate of Dixon High School, received $2000. She is currently attending Sacramento City College with plans to transfer to UC Davis as a junior. She plans to become a veterinarian.
The Friends, an all-volunteer organization raises funds by selling beverages at the Dixon May Fair. They use the proceeds for building and grounds improvements on the fairgrounds, exhibitor and special event awards, and college scholarships.
Only Solano County residents planning a career in agriculture and accepted into a California college, are eligible to apply, said JoAnn Giannoni of Dixon, the scholarship chair. Applicants have graduated from a Solano County high school and must be enrolled in or accepted for enrollment in either a four-year or two-year college. They must major in an agricultural-related field, which can encompass dozens of majors, including agricultural business, forestry, pomology, nematology, plant pathology, viticulture, wildlife and fisheries biology, and child, family and consumer science.
Recipients are selected on their personal, civic and academic experience, academic standing, personal commitment and goals, leadership potential, civic accomplishments, and agricultural interests. Desired but not mandatory is 4-H, FFA or Grange experience.
All applicants must submit a personal statement of no more than two typed pages, explaining “why they are pursuing their desired career and what they hope to accomplish,” Giannoni said. The rules are at http://www.friendsofthefair.org/. Applications are generally due March 1.
The scholarship committee is comprised of Giannoni; Tootie Huffman, treasurer of the Friends; Vacaville veterinarian John Howard, who received his degree from UC Davis; and Kathy Keatley Garvey of Vacaville and Carrie Hamel of Dixon, both of UC Davis.
Capsule information on the recipients:
Olivia Ramirez was active in 4-H and FFA and also played basketball, water polo, volleyball, powderpuff football and softball in Dixon. “My plan is to go to Chico State for four years and get my bachelor of science degree in animal science, and then apply to the UC Davis Vet School to become a large animal veterinarian,” she said. Ramirez said she intends to start a veterinary practice and also start a program that helps troubled youth of her community “learn the importance of farming, caring for animals.” She remembers saving “every dollar from babysitting, allowance, birthday money, anything I could save” to buy a horse” when she was in middle school. She’s also raised swine and sheep and exhibited them at the Dixon May Fair.
Jordan Dosker says her ultimate goal is to become a veterinarian “and to work with either large or exotic animals.” She didn’t grow up around animals but interned at the Sacramento Zoo. Dosker said she’d like to help people care for animals both in the United States and in third-world countries. “From Solano County to sub-Saharan Africa, I want to make an impact on people’s understanding of agriculture by taking my education on medicine and animal management and sharing it with numerous communities.”
Maria Kogler was active in the Rio Vista 4-H Club, showing market goats, and later joined the Rio Vista FFA. Both “created many opportunities for me to share my passion for agriculture with so many people,” she said. Her desire to teach is fueled by her passion for agriculture. “I want to create the same opportunities for future studenets that I was offered,” Kogler said.
Lyle Glass grew up on a 10-acre farm and continues to be active in 4-H. He served as a Solano County 4-H Ambassador, the highest 4-H rank in the county and then was named a California State Ambassador, the highest 4-H rank in the state. He seeks a career in agribusiness. “I love agriculture because of my extensive involvement in the industry,” eh said. “Also I enjoy working with people. I like to feel like I am a positive influence on people and can inspire greatness in them. I want to see people fulfill their full potential and I credit that to all the people who wanted to see me do the same.”
Of 4-H, Glass said it has morphed him into “who I am today, however, it was also the things I learned and achieved in the organization that helped make me who I am today. I was in an environment that helped me learn more about myself and what I love to do. I had a unique experience in my life that set me up for success.”
Kyle Garlick, a former 4-H’er, recalls his family moving to the country when he was in the second grade. “This was the beginning of my love for agriculture,” he said. He credits Rhonda Rayn, a Dixon 4-H leader and former coordinator of the Dixon May Fair Junior Horse Show, with getting him involved in agriculture. He later joined the Dixon FFA. Garlick served as a foreign exchange student in Argentina and attended a dairy school half of the day. “I had the opportunity to work in the dairy plant learning how to make yogurt, milk and cheese,” he said. After graduating from Butte Community College, he plans to obtain his bachelor’s degree in ag business from Chico State and a “pursue a career with a company or agency specializing in agriculture.”
Nicole Talken, who plans to become a veterinarian, was active in both 4-H and FFA, and is presently involved in breeding and raising grand-champion rabbits. Her projects have included market goats, market lambs, market swine, dairy goats, horses, dogs, rabbits, poultry, photography, art work, taxidermy and ag mechanics. A second-year student at Sacramento City College, she plans to transfer to UC Davis her junior year. She is majoring in animal science and management and minoring in animal nutrition and American sign language. Talken, a cancer survivor, was diagnosed with a rare cancer at age six. Her motto is “Never give up.” Said Talken: ‘Cancer opened my eyes to the world around me and I grew up wise beyond my years.:
Jillian Raycraft, raised in Dixon on a small farm, says that “agriculture has come to have most of my heart. She has fond memories of “sitting on my father’s lab, driving tractor and standing next to him trying to start an irrigation siphon with all my seven-year-old body’s might.” Raycraft was heavily involved in FFA and “raising animals and farming my own four acres of field corn and oat hay seasonally.” That further sparked her interest in pursing a career in agricultural business, which “permits me to combine the passion that I already encompass for agriculture with my willingness and dedication to further my knowledge and advocacy in this field.” Already sparking much of her interest “are the ideas of seed distribution and agricultural lobbying.”
William Clark, Harvard Professor, on Building Trust Between California Farmers and Consumers
By Courtney Steward, Assistant Editor
Social and conventional media are sharing widespread and varied opinions about California farmers and farming across the Central Valley and beyond, using soundbites in place of fact-based dialogue.
At a recent workshop called “Food for a Healthy World: Monitoring Progress Towards Food Security,” sponsored by the UC Davis World Food Center and the UC Agricultural Issues Center, William Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, at first appeared to dodge giving his opinion. “It would be dumb beyond belief for me to have opinions about farmers in California,” explained Clark, “except I enjoy what they produce.”
The goal for the group of campus and visiting experts who attended the workshop was to reach agreement on the major factors that must be considered to sustainably feed the world’s population. “The reason I’m here,” he said, “is because I work on sustainable development issues broadly, and much of what is going on here in California in the farming sector as well as in the energy sector are some of the most fascinating and useful experiments anywhere—in grappling with these issues. And I come out fairly frequently to UC Davis because I find it a wonderful point of contact with the farming community here. I’ve borrowed some UC Davis students, and I learn a lot when I visit.”
Clark explained, “I think California is a state that obviously thinks hard about how it can be a productive, vibrant economy, while taking care of the environment and of the people,” evidenced by great creativity and ingenuity among California farmers and researchers. “My colleague, Tom Tomich, director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis recently co-authored one of the first peer-reviewed articles* to emanate from the California Nitrogen Assessment (CNA), an ongoing project at UC Davis.”
Assessment research indicates that while there are many pathways through which nitrogen can enter the environment, inorganic fertilizer use is responsible for the largest fraction of new nitrogen introduced in California annually. Currently, over 600,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizer are sold in the state each year.
Tomich maintains that better nitrogen use information is indispensable for the collaborative development of effective solutions to increase nitrogen use efficiency and save farmers money. The article describes both how nitrogen flows in crop production, but also how farmers can limit the flows that create problems in the environment. Also included are recommendations on how data could be better compiled to improve understanding of statewide trends in fertilizer use.
Clark claimed, “That’s the best nitrogen study that’s been done anywhere in the world in terms of showing how farmers are working and could be working to capture the benefits of fertilizer without offsite damages to the environment.”
Regarding these offsite flows, Clark emphasized, “I’ve almost never met a farmer who does not care deeply about the land, or the fisher about the health of the fishery or of the sea. And I think sometimes the debates that between the conservation and farm communities go completely nuts on this,” Clark explained. “I mean, you start with somebody who is making their living—has chosen a life—on the land. That’s where you start.”
“That said, all of us end up sometimes doing stuff that has some consequences we didn’t intend,” stated Clark. “I look to the science community to help all of us, including farmers, see some of the downsides of some of the practices that we do that are invisible. So, perhaps science discovers this chemical we thought was safe turns out not to be safe. Or the way we are turning over our crops has impacts on biodiversity that we didn’t know about.”
“But again,” Clark continued, “it’s the responsibility of my community, the science community, to bring those invisible but measurable discoveries into light in a conversation with farmers to reach a joint understanding of why one might want to use less of these applications and how one could use less of them while still turning out an attractive crop.”
Clark said it’s been his experience that most growers listen and try new approaches.
Clark concluded that trust between farmers, consumers, retailers, and health advocates is an all-time low. “I think food is one of the most complicated personal issues there is. If I were trying to build trust in an arena, there’s none harder, except maybe nuclear energy, than food issues. I think we all know that we have had less dialog and more soundbite exchange, and I don’t think any side is blameless.”
“My pitch here,” Clark summarized, “is simply I don’t see how we can move forward without starting meaningful dialogues that aren’t soundbites.” Clarke wants to inspire people to ask themselves, “What am I worried about?” instead of throwing blurbs into the middle of a on-air radio conversation. He elaborated, “Whether I’m a consumer advocate, a farmer, or a retailer, ‘What am I worried about? What do I think you guys are doing that I wish you weren’t doing?’ We aren’t brain dead; we should be able to work together, as long as we can talk instead of yell.”
Working through multi-partner collaborations, SAGE develops place-based projects, toolkits and conceptual frameworks to demonstrate strategies for urban-edge farmland preservation, regeneration, and re-connection with healthy cities. SAGE also provides agriculture-related technical services such as foodshed and agricultural economic viability assessments, implementation plans and business plans. Partners include public agencies, land trusts, agricultural enterprises and associations, planning and economic consultancy firms, public-interest organizations working in the area of public health, healthy food access, education and conservation, and community groups in urban and rural areas.
Sibella founded SAGE in 2001 to use her background in agricultural marketing, education and journalism, to help diverse stakeholders embrace urban-edge agricultural places as keystones of urban and regional sustainability. Bringing Poppy on board strengthens the organization’s capacity to work with the agricultural community, particularly retiring landowners and beginning farmers and ranchers who are eager to benefit from new opportunities at the urban-edge.
Poppy began her career as a California Certified Public Accountant specializing in family-scale agricultural businesses and associations. She translated her intimate knowledge of agricultural issues and farm-family decision-making to the policy arena, working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), first for the crop insurance program in the Western Region and most recently as the National Program Leader for Small Farms and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers in Washington, D.C.. While at the USDA she served as a member of the management team for Secretary Vilsack‘s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative,
“We are delighted to welcome Poppy to SAGE,” says Kraus. “Poppy’s breadth of experience – providing services to farmers, working for ag-focused nonprofits and for the USDA – and the respect she commands in the California and national agricultural communities, make her the ideal person to help SAGE grow our mission to cultivate urban-edge places that model sustainable agriculture integrated with resilient communities.” For her part, Poppy says, “I have long respected Sibella’s vision and work, and I think we will make a great team. Sibella already has many forward-thinking projects in the works, and I’m looking forward to working with SAGE’s diverse partners, as well as bringing in collaborations of my own.”
SAGE’s areas of expertise, services and publications include:
Technical consulting and visioning on the agricultural components of land-use projects and policy documents
On-the-ground models and best practice toolkits that integrate farming with public engagement and natural resources stewardship
Foodshed and local agriculture assessments for land trusts, local and regional governments, associations and businesses
Conceptual frameworks that bridge sustainable agriculture and graphic models that depict the inter-relationship of urban and agricultural land uses
Tackling Food Issues is Big Goal of the Innovation Institute
By Edward Ortiz
Sacramento Bee Reporter
The fate of the world’s food supply, the relationship of food to health, and the role of venture capital in farming were among a slate of issues tackled by noted national scientists and others during the official launch of the Innovation Institute for Food and Health at UC Davis on Wednesday.
The center is a partnership between the university and Mars Inc., and signals a deepening of a 40-year relationship between the two.
The institute is destined to operate under the umbrella of UC Davis’ planned World Food Center, which the university has said it wants to establish in Sacramento, possibly in the downtown railyard.
Wednesday’s event at the Mondavi Center was the first held by the Innovation Institute, which will be funded with $40 million from Mars, the company best known as the maker of Snickers and M&Ms. UC Davis will contribute $20 million.
“This will be a research-based relationship, but there is another element to it. It will also be an innovation-based relationship,” said Harold Schmitz, chief science officer at Mars Inc.
In participating, Mars hopes to find a sustainable business model it can use in the long term for its food operations – especially its growing pet food operation.
For UC Davis, the Institute is being seen as a Silicon Valley-like center where startups and innovative research will be created within the food realm.
Mars will not be the only company involved in the center. Other companies, universities and entities will eventually be brought into the fold, said Linda P.B. Katehi, chancellor of UC Davis.
“A number of faculty have already started collaboration work with other companies, and we will invite them to participate,” Katehi said. She did not specify which companies are involved, or what research might be included.
The broad-based approach the institute seeks to take in tackling food issues was evident in the wide-ranging and powerhouse roster of speakers invited to the symposia.
One of those was molecular biologist and Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, who spoke about how education and genetics affect health. Blackburn won a Nobel prize in medicine in 2009 for her research into how chromosomes are protected by shoelace cap-like end pieces called telomeres.
Blackburn related a key study of 100,000 Californians that found those who did not finish high school had shorter telomeres, a phenomenon correlated with the onset of disease, like cancer.
Blackburn said that an innovation institute could allow such research to get into the hands of those who can use it for the public good.
“Communication is absolutely the key thing,” Blackburn said. “Scientists are skeptical of other areas of science. There’s a lot of mutual mistrust.”
Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, also attended. “I believe this is a watershed moment for food and health” she said. “At the end of the day, nutrition education is an important foundation for helping our youth learn lifelong habits and this is the kind of thing that should happen in this region.”
Climate change and its effect on food security was also a topic of discussion.
“We’re at a tipping point where we’ve seen warning signals. We can no longer plead ignorance, we’re no longer bystanders,” said Benjamin Santer, atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “So, I hope this new institute can do a better job of communicating the science of climate change.”