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FOOD IT: How will technology shape the future of food?

UC at FOOD IT
More than 300 people gathered in Mountain View for the fourth annual FOOD IT: Fork to Farm on June 27 to discuss the role of information technology in the food system – from managing crops in the field to dealing with consumer food waste.

The event, hosted by The Mixing Bowl, attracted professionals who intersect with every part of the food system, from farmers to scientists, from entrepreneurs to venture capital investors. 

Panelists discussed the shift in power caused by the rise of the tech-enabled food consumer, its effects on food production and supply as well as implications for society.

THE-VINE-(HORIZONTAL-1)

VP Glenda Humiston announced that UC ANR is launching The VINE or Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship to cultivate regional innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems in rural communities. Led by Gabriel Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer, The VINE aims to bring together resources such as small business development centers, community colleges, county cooperative extension offices, makers labs, incubators and accelerators.

“We're trying to go in region by region to catalyze a coalition,” Humiston said. “We want to make sure innovators and inventors can go from idea to commercialization with all the support they need.”

The VINE would connect innovators with legal advice, someone to discuss finances, access to people who can help with business plans and opportunities to partner with the university on joint research projects.

“We want to make it possible for anyone in California to access support,” Humiston said.  “If you're in an urban area or near a campus, you probably have access to those resources. If you're in agriculture, natural resources or more remote rural communities, you typically have little access.”

Ag college deans talk about the need to train new farmers.

On a panel of agriculture college deans from Iowa State, Cal Poly and UC Davis moderated by Humiston, the deans lamented the lagging interest in farming by young people.

"Everybody wants to be a vegetarian, but nobody wants to be a plant scientist,” said Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The Cube interviewed Glenda Humiston and Helene Dillard about how UC is changing to address new challenges related to the food system.

Humiston said that farming isn't just for young people. we see people making mid-career changes. 

Throughout the day, several people speculated that Amazon's buying of Whole Foods would mix things up. Dean Andy Thulin of Cal Poly's College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences said tech makes food sexy.

Wendy Wintersteen, dean of Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said that consumers are more informed. Millennials want to know what is in their food and are concerned about food safety, allergens and are willing to spend more on food. 

On a panel discussing “Changing Food Preferences of the Tech-Enabled Consumer,” Walmart executive Katie Finnegan noted that Apeel, a product that coats produce and keeps it fresh longer, could reduce food waste and change the food supply chain. “A small change can have a big impact,” she said.

For years, life expectancy for Americans has gradually increased. Last year, for the first time, life expectancy decreased due to obesity and poverty, said Justin Siegal of UC Davis Genome Center.

Kevin Sanchez said Yolo County Food Bank has been developing relationships with farms to get fresh food.

Kevin Sanchez of the Yolo County Food Bank said he has been developing relationships with farms to get fresh food to people, but added, “We have a storage challenge.” 

Discussing “Upstream Production Impacts of New Consumer Food Choices,Driscoll's Nolan Paul said, “People want to know where the berries are from.” They ask about the tools used for breeding. Paul said Driscoll's will never use genetic engineering unless consumers on board with it.

On the Internet of Tomatoes panel, representatives for Analog Devices, Bowles Farming and Campbells talked about using data on weather, water, soil and other things to grow higher quality tomatoes and using optical grading at processing plants for quality control. Bowles Farming has also have begun using Instagram to engage consumers in conversations about farming issues that commodity marketing groups try to avoid, such as unintended consequences of some policies.

UC ANR was a cosponsor of the event, which delighted conference participants with exhibits featuring array of futuristic devices like printing your own pancake or tortilla.  

 

Posted on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at 12:04 PM

Late-harvest processing peaches produce more profit, new UC studies show

Peaches harvested early in the season have less time to grow so more fruit must be removed to allow remaining fruit to grow larger.

Tree fruit growers can receive premiums for delivering certain extra-early varieties of peaches, but peach farmers may net roughly $800 more per acre from late-harvest processing peaches than extra-early harvest varieties, according to new cost studies released by the UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension.

To help farmers make decisions on which peach varieties to plant, UC researchers present sample costs to produce extra-early harvested cling and freestone peaches and late harvested cling and freestone peaches for processing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley in these studies.

Although processors pay more for extra-early harvested peach varieties than late-harvest peaches, the researchers found that yields are higher for late-harvest varieties while costs for hand thinning the fruit are lower.

“Peaches harvested early in the season have less time to grow compared to peaches that get to hang on the tree another month or more,” explained Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County, who coauthored the studies. “Therefore, more fruit has to be removed so the remaining fruit can size. That means it costs you more to produce less.”

The analyses are based upon hypothetical well-managed farming operations using practices common to the region. The costs, materials and practices shown in these studies will not apply to all farms. Growers, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.

Both studies assume a 100-acre farmer-owned operation with 40 acres of cling peaches. The remaining acreage for both hypothetical farms is planted in other mature tree crops. The estimated economic life of the extra-early harvested cling peach orchard and the late harvested cling peach orchard is 18 years.

Some of the major differences between the two studies are return price, yield and fruit thinning cost. The extra-early harvested varieties have a price of $545 per ton, a yield of 17 tons per acre, and a thinning cost of $1,445 per acre. The late harvested varieties have a price of $490 per ton, a yield of 20 tons per acre, and a thinning cost of $1,177 per acre.

Asked if a small farm could save on fruit thinning expenses by doing it themselves, Duncan replied, “I guess it would be possible for a small family operation to do the thinning themselves, but not likely. It can take 20 to 40 minutes to thin a single tree. If there are 151 trees per acre, you can see that it would take one skilled person over a week to thin one acre.”

The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for production material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. Ranging analysis tables show net profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs and the operations with equipment and materials.

Free copies of “Sample Costs to Produce Processing Peaches, Cling and Freestone Extra-early Harvested Varieties, in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley – 2017” and “Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Processing Peaches, Cling and Freestone Late Harvested Varieties, in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley – 2017” are available on the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost-of-production studies for many other commodities are also available.

The cost study program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, both part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Jeremy Murdock at the Agricultural Issues Center, at (530) 752-4651, Janine Hasey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Sutter/Yuba counties, at (530) 822-7515, or Duncan at (209) 525-6800.

Major differences between extra-early and late harvest peaches are return price, yield and fruit thinning cost.

 

Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 4:19 PM

UC's Pat Crawford weighs in on childhood obesity

Today marks the start of the 9th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference. Since it's founding 18 years ago by UC ANR Specialist Pat Crawford, it has grown from a small gathering of California researchers, educators, and health care professionals to the nation's largest gathering on the topic of pediatric obesity/overweight.

So today seems the perfect time to revisit a 2015 conversation with Rose Hayden-Smith, UC's Food Observer, and Crawford, now the Senior Director of Research at UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute. As Pat stated in her interview—

“Not changing is risky. The United States – along with Mexico – has the highest obesity rates in the industrialized world. With these extraordinarily high obesity rates, we are on a path toward ever-rising chronic disease rates including not just diabetes, but also heart disease and some cancers, increasing health care costs and reducing productivity.

Even more alarming, is a little known fact that 23 percent of the adolescents in this country currently have pre-diabetes or diabetes as measured by actual blood tests in our largest national study of health (NHANES). Something is seriously wrong in a society such as ours where so many children are growing up with such a high risk of preventable disease.”

You can read the complete interview at the UC Food Observer. You'll also find a recent story about the 45 youth advocates from organizations around California joining this year's conference to bring the voices of youth to this vital conversation.

Posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 9:07 AM

Delta farm tour gives UC students a broader view of food system

“Eighty percent of waterfowl depend on agriculture for food,” said Dawit Zeleke, second from right.

UC Global Food Initiative student fellows from University of California campuses throughout the state gathered for a springtime field trip in the Central Valley to learn more about the relationships between food, farming and the environment.

The day-long tour, hosted by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, began at a farm that is maintained to support wildlife in the breezy Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta region. The GFI fellows also viewed a habitat restoration project at LangeTwins Winery then watched freshly harvested cherries being processed at Morada Produce's packing plant. They wrapped up the day with a tour of a demonstration garden and a discussion of nutrition education at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Stockton. 

UC President Janet Napolitano, who, along with UC's 10 chancellors, launched the Global Food Initiative in 2014, met with the 17 fellows for lunch at LangeTwins Winery.

“We started the Global Food Initiative several years ago with the goal of creating a pathway to a sustainable, nutritious food future for the planet. A small, modest goal,” Napolitano said, adding that she is excited to learn about the fellows' projects.

The GFI fellows are working on projects that range from raising awareness about food production to analyzing the effects of climate change on pollination, and from efforts to make soils safe for growing food in urban areas to using food waste to fuel batteries.

UC Merced senior Ever Serna's GFI project is to educate his fellow college students about where food comes from, before it gets to the grocery store.

“The tour gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation about how food is developed and grown,” he said. “I think when I eat vegetables and fruits, I'm going to be more conscious of what I eat now.”

Reid Johnsen, a third-year Ph.D. student in agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, Global Food Initiative fellow for UC ANR, and participant in the Graduate Students in Extension program, is working with UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County to study ranchers' preferences for different payment structures for conservation easement to compensate them for the ecosystem services provided by their land.

“To be able to see agriculture in action makes such a difference to me, to see the way the crops are produced and the variety that's out here,” said Johnsen. “The diversity of crops was not something I was aware of before coming on this trip.”

President Napolitano visited with the GFI fellows over lunch.

“I thought it was interesting to see a lot of different agricultural production systems,” said UC Santa Barbara senior and campus GFI ambassador Bryn Daniel, who works with student activists on student food access and housing security issues.

In addition to learning more about food production, the outing gave the fellows an opportunity to network with peers from other campuses.

“That's what I liked about today's meeting, just meeting everybody and getting these fantastic connections,” said Ryan Dowdy, a third-year Ph.D. student at UC Davis who is converting food waste into energy-producing microbial fuel cells.

“I think this program, and especially the fellowship, is really important for young scientists who dive into this really huge subject of global food,” said Claudia Avila, a graduate student at UC Riverside who studies trace metals in urban agricultural soils.

Best kept secret

In welcoming the UC GFI fellows, Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said, “I have a feeling a lot of you aren't familiar with our division. As I travel around the state to different campuses, I keep being told that we're the best kept secret, which I personally do not think is a good thing." 

She explained that agricultural research has been part of the University of California since the land-grant institution's beginning in 1868 in Oakland. UC ANR has researchers on the Berkeley, Davis and Riverside campuses and UC Cooperative Extension advisors in the county offices, she said, adding, “Here in California, our advisors have very robust research programs.”

Aaron Lange, left, explains that he planted the elderberry bush to create habitat for the threatened valley elderberry longhorn beetle.

Farms are wildlife habitat

Michelle Leinfelder-Miles, UC Cooperative Extension delta crops advisor, introduced Dawit Zeleke, associate director of conservation farms and ranches for The Nature Conservancy, who explained why he farms 9,200 acres of corn, triticale, potatoes, alfalfa and irrigated pasture to enhance foraging habitat for sandhill cranes and other wildlife on Staten Island. The Nature Conservancy partners with UC Cooperative Extension along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, California Department of Water Resources, Oregon State University, UC Merced and UC Davis to study the relationships between agriculture and natural resources.

The Pacific Flyway for migrating birds passes over the delta. “Eighty percent of waterfowl depend on agriculture for food,” Zeleke said. After wheat harvest, they flood the fields. “You should see it in September, October, November and December. Thousands of birds, ten thousand cranes use this place for habitat.”

Randy Lange, on right, said, "We reuse our water as much as possible." Waste water from the winery is captured and used to irrigate vineyards.

Lodi region is zin-ful

En route to lunch, Paul Verdegaal, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor for San Joaquin County, described the Lodi region's wine industry. There are about 750 growers, many of which are small family operations. While 10 to 15 acres used to be typical vineyard size, most have 100 acres to be sustainable and one family member works at an outside job. 

“Agriculture is a tough job and there is no guaranteed income,” Verdegaal said.

About 40 percent of the zinfandel in California is grown in the Lodi region, but there are several wine grape varieties planted. 

Pointing out the bus window to a vineyard interplanted with a crimson clover cover crop, Verdegaal said, “We do see interest in using as few chemicals as possible and using techniques of the integrated pest management program.”

After eating lunch at LangeTwins Winery in Acampo, the GFI fellows took a tour of the winery with the fourth- and fifth-generation owners, Randy Lange and Aaron Lange. The Langes are founding members of the Lodi Rules Program, which helps growers produce grapes and wines in a manner that is environmentally respectful, socially sensitive and economically sound. They pointed out an array of solar panels covering the grape press room that provide electricity. The Langes are planting native plants around the winery to reduce sedimentation, improve water quality and restore wildlife habitat along the Mokelumne River.

The cluster cutter gently separates the cherry clusters into individual cherries.

Bing is king of cherries

When the GFI fellows visited at the end of April, sweet cherry harvest had just begun in Bakersfield area orchards, and cherries were being packed and shipped in San Joaquin County.

“Hemmed in by rain to the north and heat to the south, cherry season is only eight to 10 weeks long,” said Joe Grant, emeritus UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for San Joaquin County.

“While the Bing variety is still the mainstay of the California cherry industry because of its excellent eating and shipping quality,” said Grant, “acreage of other high quality and earlier-maturing varieties has increased in recent years to lengthen the harvest season. But Bing is still king.” Asked about the effects of climate change on cherries, Grant explained that warmer temperatures are reducing the number of winter chilling hours, which cherries need.

Morada Produce uses waste water from the cherry processing plant to water these walnut trees, said Scott Brown, fifth from left.

The fellows saw the hand-picked fruit being processed for packing at Morada Produce, a family farm in Linden that also grows walnuts, peppers and onions.

“Keeping produce cold is key to maintaining quality,” said Scott Brown, Morada's production manager, as the fellows watched fresh, cold water rain down onto the freshly picked sweet cherries. The leaves and stems floating to the top were removed as the red clusters glided in the water to the cluster cutter, which gently separated the clusters into individual cherries.  Gently conveyed through the plant in flowing water, the cherries were sorted by size and quality at the highly mechanized facility. Air ejectors spit out rejected fruit, so only 70 percent makes it into a packed box. 

“Fruit picked on Monday is packed Tuesday, then shipped to Korea, Japan, Australia and other export markets to be eaten by Friday,” Brown said.

The fellows were fascinated to see the steps taken to ensure high-quality cherries are cooled, sorted and packaged for shipping to stores and consumers. 

“It was just so much more complicated than I knew,” said Jess Gambel, a third-year Ph.D. student at UC San Diego who is studying the effects of climate change on bee pollination in squash plants.

UC Berkeley graduate student Sarick Matzen reads about the brightly colored plants in the demonstration garden that attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Sustainable gardening

The tour wrapped up at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Stockton, with a discussion about how UC CalFresh and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program help low-income Californians attain adequate nutrition and food security, followed by a tour of the demonstration garden maintained by the UC Master Gardener Program volunteers.

“There are more pollutants in urban runoff than in ag runoff,” said Karrie Reid, UC Cooperative Extension landscape horticulture advisor in San Joaquin County. Reid described how she and the UC Master Gardeners work with home and community gardeners to reduce pesticide and water use, and noted that a Water Use Classification of Landscape Species plant list, based on UC research, is available to help gardeners choose landscape plants.

“As a soil scientist, I really appreciated the recurring emphasis on soils as the foundation for agriculture,” said a fourth-year Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley and GFI fellow with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “From talking with The Nature Conservancy farm operator about how they were conserving carbon in those soils and doing wetlands management to hearing about special properties of the sandy loam soil in this part of the county, and talking with the Master Gardener folks about soil contamination issues.”                      

This is the third class of GFI student fellows. The undergraduate and graduate student fellows, representing all 10 UC campuses plus UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have helped further UC's Global Food Initiative efforts to sustainably and nutritiously feed the world's growing population by working on food-related projects and raising awareness of this critical issue.

UC President Napolitano, center in blue blazer, met with GFI fellows at LangeTwins Winery during their agriculture tour.

 

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 2:29 PM

Bananas!

Did you know that a banana tree is not really a tree? It's a giant perennial bulb that grows to maturity in less than a year, producing one flower that becomes one huge bunch of bananas. I learned this fact last month from banana growers while visiting the home of organic bananas, the Dominican Republic.

I was invited by a US AID Farmer-to-Farmer project to spend a couple of weeks as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic, primarily to work with the Banelino Banana Cooperative. Banelino is a banana production and exporting company comprised of approximately 320 mostly small-scale banana producers in the northwest section of the country, near the border with Haiti. All producers are certified, or seeking, organic, fair trade, or Global Gap certifications.

(Photo: Roberta Almerez)

Eighty percent of the bananas grown by Banelino are certified organic, and most of them are fair trade certified. The primary export destination for Dominican Republic organic bananas is Europe.

The growers have been impacted by climate change problems, including strong winds, more frequent and intense droughts and record high temperatures. My assignment, based on my work as UC Cooperative Extension Agritourism Coordinator, was to help Banelino assess the potential for successful agritourism development to diversify their income and carry them through hard times.

Like farmers all over the world, the Banelino banana growers have a story to share with visitors. Part of the story is the fascinating revelation of the annual growth cycle of the banana plant; the other part of the story is about the community. I learned the true meaning for the words "fair trade."  With the premium, or the added income, that Banelino receives by selling in the fair trade program, the company is able to provide schools, clinics and other social programs for the banana grower and banana worker families. We visited schools and talked with teachers, seeing primary grades classes smaller than most California classes, with children engaged in learning. We visited a school for special needs students, paid for through the Banelino fair trade income, that was so modern and well-equipped it would be the envy of most California special education teachers. It had a colorful art room and a fully equipped, small-scale bakery with mixers and ovens for a training program for the older youth.

Banelino Primary school. (Photo: Roberta Almerez)

Also, like other farmers around the world, Banelino growers have a challenge developing a program to attract paying visitors to tour the farms and learn their stories. They will need to create signs and brochures in multiple languages for their visitors. They will need to work with a local marketing professional to develop a website and social media marketing campaign. They will have to analyze their costs and price their tour so that they don't lose money in the efforts. They will need to connect with the local tourism community and get included in visitor guides and tourism maps. They will need to offer familiarization tours to travel agents, tour leaders and hotel staff to entice them to refer tourists from the all-inclusive beach resorts three hours' drive away. They will have to work with their local hotel association to create an attractive itinerary for visitors to the region - enough attractions to keep guests overnight in hotels - to justify the three-hour drive.

Like farmers everywhere who are considering agritourism, the Banelino banana growers will soon be part of the hospitality industry. They have a wonderful story to share of a hard-working and warm-hearted community. Please look them up if you visit the Dominican Republic.

(Photo: Roberta Almerez)
Posted on Thursday, May 11, 2017 at 9:16 AM

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