Glenda Humiston, University of California and Helene Dillard, UC Davis | Food IT

Glenda Humiston, University of California and Helene Dillard, UC Davis | Food IT

September 14, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


From the Computer History Museum in the
heart of Silicon Valley, it’s The Cube. Covering: Food IT: Fork to Farm.
Brought to you by Western Digital. Hey welcome back everybody, Jeff Frick here
with The Cube. We’re at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View
California at the Food IT show. About 350 people from academia,
from food producing, somebody came all the way from New Zealand for this show. To a lot of tech,
big companies and startups talking about applying IT to food. Everything from AG,
to consumption, to your home kitchen, to what do you do with the scraps that we
all throw away? We’re excited now to get to the big brain segment. We’ve got our
PhDs on here. We’re excited to have Dr. Glenda Humiston, she’s the VP of
Agriculture and Natural resources for the University of California. Welcome. Thank you. And
also Dr. Helene Dillard, she’s the Dean of the College of Agricultural and
Environmental Sciences at UC Davis. Welcome. Thank you. So first off we’re
talking a little bit before we turn the cameras on, neither of you been to this
event before. Just kind of your impressions of the event in general? I
love seeing the mix of the folks here. As you were saying in your intro
there, there’s quite a diverse array of people, and I personally believe
that’s what’s really going to help us find solutions moving forward. That
cross-pollination. And I’ve enjoyed it, just seeing all the different people
that are here, but then the interaction with the audience was very uniquely done,
and I just think that’s the real big positive for the show. Right, so you guys
are on a panel earlier today, and I thought one of the really interesting
topics that came up on that panel was what is good tech? You know, everybody wants
at all, but unfortunately there’s no free lunch, right? Something we all learned as
kids, there’s always a trade-off, and so people want perfect, organic, this free,
that free, cage-free, at the same time they want it to look beautiful. The
economical and delivered to their door, and Amazon Prime within two hours. So
it’s interesting when you think of the trade-offs that we have to make in the
food industry, to kind of hit all these pieces, or can we hit all these pieces? Or
how does stuff get prioritized? Well I think for us it’s going to be a
balance, and trying to figure out how do you- how do you provide the needs for all
these different audiences and all the different things that they want, and I
don’t think one farmer can do it for all these different groups that have
different demands on what they’re looking for, and some of the trade-offs
could be as we go away from pesticides and some other things, we might have more
blemishes, and those are still edible pieces of fruit and vegetables, it’s just
that maybe it’s curly, maybe the carrots not straight, you know, maybe it’s forked,
but it’s still very edible, and so I think that we have to do a lot more to
help educate consumers. Help people understand that it doesn’t have to look
perfect to give you perfect nutrition. Right, right. Yeah, Helene is
absolutely right. Some of it’s just education,rrrrrr but some of it’s also us
finding the new technology that is acceptable to the public. You know, part
of the problem is we sometimes have researchers working on their own, trying
to find the best solution to a problem, and we’re not we’re not socializing that
with the public as we’re moving forward. So then all of a sudden here’s some new
type of technology, and they’re like, where did this come from? What does it
mean to me? Do I need to worry about it? And that’s one reason we talked earlier
on the panel too about the need to really engage more of our citizens in
the scientific process itself, and really start dealing with that
scientific illiteracy that’s out there. Because there’s a lot of talk about
transparency in the conversation earlier today about what is transparency, because
you always think about the people complaining about genetically modified
foods. Well what is genetically modified? All you have to do is look at the
picture of the first apple ever and it was a tiny little nasty look at thing
that nobody would want to eat, compared to what we see at the grocery store
today; different type of genetic modification, but still you know, you
don’t plant the ugly one and you plant the ones that are bigger and have more
fruit. Guess what, the next round has more fruit. So it does seem like a big
education problem. It is, and yet for the average human being out there, all you
have to do is look at a chihuahua next to a St. Bernard. None of that was done
with the genetically modified technology. Right, right. And yet people just they forget
that we’ve been doing this for thousands of years, literally. Right. Now you talked
about ‘the vine’ earlier on in the panel. What is the vine? What’s the
vine all about? Well, it’s brand new. It’s still getting rolled out. In fact, we announced
it today. It’s the Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship. You know you
got to think of a clever way to get that acronym in there. Yeah, which comes first, the
chicken or the egg? Basically it’s our attempt from University of California to
catalyze regional innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems. Part of
what’s driving that is we’ve got a fairly good amount of resources
scattered around the state, even in some of our rural areas on small business
development centers, our community colleges, our County Cooperative
Extension offices, and a host of other resources, including lately the last
several years, incubators, accelerators, makers labs, but they don’t talk to each
other. They don’t work together. So we’re trying to go in region by region and
catalyze a coalition, so that we can make sure that our innovators, our inventors
out there, are able to go from idea to commercialization with all the support
they need. Be it you know, just basic legal advice on should they be
patenting something, access to people to discuss finances, access to
people that can help them with business plans. Opportunities to partner with the
University in joint research projects; whatever it takes, make sure that for
anybody in California, they can access that type of support. So that’s interesting, obviously at Hoss and at Stanford, not far from here you know, a lot of the
technology success companies come out of you know, kind of an entrepreneurial spin
with a business focus grad, and a tech grad in the tech world, and
you know, ton of stuff at Berkeley on that. Yeah, but those folks are in urban areas.
Right, right. If you’re in a large urban area or you’re near a major campus, you’ve
probably got access to most of that. If you’re in agriculture, natural resources,
and particular are more remote rural communities, you
you typically have no access or very little. Right, right. So the biggest
question; Helene, so UC Davis right, obviously known as one of the top
agricultural focus school, certainly in the UC system, if not in the world. I mean,
how is the role of academic institutions evolving in this space as we move
forward? I would say it’s evolving in that we’re getting more entrepreneurship
on campus, so professors are being encouraged to look at what they’re
working on, and see if there’s patent potential for this, and also we have a
group on UC Davis campus called innovation access, but looking at how can
they access this population of people with money, and you know, the startups to
help them bring their thing to market. Right. So that’s becoming- that’s a very
different campus than years ago. I think the other thing is we’re also
encouraging our students to look at innovation, and so we have a competition
called the ‘Big Bang’ and students participate in that. They do hackathons,
they do all these kinds of things that we only tend to think that only the
adults are doing those, but now the students are doing them as well. Right.
And so we’re trying to push that entrepreneurial spirit out into all of
our campus. Everyone on the campus. And I do want to emphasize that
this isn’t just for our students or our faculty. One of the key focuses of the
VINE is all of our external partners too. Just the farmers, the landowners,
the average citizens were working with out there. If they’ve got a great idea,
we’d like to help them. Right. And what’s nice about tech is you know, tech is a
vehicle that you can’t change the world without having a big company, and I would
imagine in an Ah is kind of ‘big AG’ rolled up a lot of the small or
mid-sized things. They probably didn’t feel like there was an opportunity that
you can have a huge impact, but as we know, sitting across the street from
Google that via software and technology you can have a huge impact far beyond
kind of the size and scope of your company, so I would imagine that this is a theme
that you guys are playing off of pretty aggressively. Absolutely, and I
think there are people on campus that are looking for small farm answers in
mechanization, as well as large farm answers. We have people that are working
overseas in developing countries, with really really small farm answers,
and then we have people that are working with the Driscoll’s, and partnering up
with some of these other big companies. We talked a little bit before we went on
air about kind of the challenges of academic institutions in terms of
resources and scale, because these are big complicated problems. I mean, obviously
water; Kind of the elephant in the room at this conference. it’s not being
talked about specifically, I think they’ve had other water shows, and you
know, just drive up and down the valley by turn walk in Merced, and you see the
big signs, you know, ‘we want the water for the farms not with us for the salmon in
the stream.’ So what are the environmental impacts? So these are these are big hairy
problems. These are not simple solutions. So it does take a lot of kind of systems
approach to think through what are the trade-offs? Again, there’s no free lunch.
It really does take a systems approach, and that’s one thing here in California
we’re doing some very innovative work on. A great example that both UC Davis, my
division, and other parts of the UC system are working on, is Central Valley
AG plus food and beverage manufacturing consortium, which is 28 counties. The
Central Valley and up into the Sierra, and what’s exciting about it is it is
taking that holistic approach. It’s looking at bringing around the table. the
folks from research and development,Z workforce, trained workforce, adequate
infrastructure, financing access to capital, supply chain, infrastructure, and
having them actually work together to design what’s needed, and leverage each
other’s resources, and I think that offers a lot of possibilities moving
forward. And I would say that at least in our college and I would
call the whole UC Davis, there’s a lot of integration of that agriculture
environmental space. So we’ve been working with the rice farmers on when
could you flood the the rice field so that there’s landing places for the
migrating birds, because this is the Pacific Flyway, and how can we grow baby
salmonids in that rice water, and then put them back in the bay, and they
figured out a way to do that. And so- and have it actually be like a fish hatchery,
only even better because we’re not feeding them little tiny pellets. They’re
actually eating real food, whole foods. So and how has some of evolution changed
from- we see it again, this is no different than anyplace else from kind
of the old school intuition, the way we’ve always done it, versus really more
of a data-driven scientific approach where people are starting to realize
there’s a lot of data out there, we’ve got all this cool technology, with the
sensors, and cloud, and edge computing ,and drones, and you know, a whole lot of ways
to collect data in ways that we couldn’t do before, to analyze it in ways that we
couldn’t do before. To start to change behavior, be more data driven as opposed
to intuition driven. I would say what we’re seeing is that as
this data starts to come in, precision gets better, and so now that we
understand that this corner of the field needs more water than the other side, we
don’t have to flood the whole thing all at once. You can start on the dry side,
and work over to the other side. So I think that the precision is getting much
much better, and so with that precision comes water efficiency, chemical
efficiencies. So to me, it’s just getting better every every time. And frankly
we’re just at the beginning of that. You know, we’re just starting to
really use drones extensively to gather that type of data. New ways of using
satellite imagery. New ways of using soil sensors; but one of the problems, one of
the big challenges we have, back to infrastructure, is in many parts of your
agricultural areas, access to the Internet. You know, that pipeline.
Broadband. If you’ve got thousands of sensors zapping information back and
forth, you can fill up that pipeline pretty fast. It becomes a problem.
That’s the pesky soft underbelly of cloud right? You gotta be connected to the thing. Alright well, we’re out of time unfortunately. We want to give you the
last word; you know for people that aren’t as familiar with the space new to
it myself included, now what would you like to share with people that kind of
raise their awareness of what’s happening with technology and
agriculture? Well I guess I would start off by saying that not to be afraid of
it, and to look at the technology that has come. Remember when we had the rotary
dial phone, you know, my son doesn’t even know what that is. Why do you say dial people up?
Yeah, why do you say dial people up. So I think you know, looking at your
rotary phone, and now looking at your smartphone, which has more computing
power than your first Macintosh did. You know so it’s just the world is changing,
and why do we expect agriculture to stay in the 1800’s mindset? It’s moving too, and
it’s growing too, and it’s getting better just like that iPhone that you have in
your hand. I think I would add to that back to the citizen science, I would love
people out there. Anybody; average citizen, young or old, to know that there’s
opportunities for them to engage. If they’re concerned about the science or
the technology, come work with us. We have over 20,000 volunteers
in our programs right now. We will happily take more, and they’ll have a
chance to see up close and personal that what this technology is, and what it can
do for them. All right, well that’s great advice. We’re going to leave it there and
Dr. Humiston, Dr. Dillard, thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day.
Thank you. Thank you. All right I’m Jeff Frick, you’re watching The Cube. We’re at
the Computer History Museum. Food IT. Learning all about the IT transformation
in the agriculture industry, also to the kitchen, your kitchen, the kitchen to
local restaurant, and all the stuff that happens with those scraps that we throw
at the end of the day. Thanks for watching, we’ll be right back after this
short break.