Monday Morning Thoughts III: The Nexus of Ag-Tech and Davis

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Ag-land

Josette Lewis, the associated director of the World Food Center at UC Davis, in a piece that appeared this past week in the Sacramento Bee, makes some important observations, noting that the Sacramento region “has the potential to be the nation’s hub of innovation for food and agriculture technology.”

Referring to UC Davis, Ms. Lewis notes, “The region has one of the highest-ranked food and ag research universities in the world, connected to one of the world’s top ag economies and in a state with the nation’s largest share of investment in food and ag startup companies. Yet with a recent leap in ag-tech investment elsewhere, this could be Sacramento’s opportunity to lose if we don’t seize the momentum.”

Last year, the food and ag-tech industry produced startups that raised $2.9 billion in private investment. “The U.S. accounted for more than half of those deals, with California supplying 31 percent. Though still a significant share, it’s a slip from 2014, when California was home to nearly half the deals,” she notes ominously.

Part of what has happened is that “the rise of incubator and accelerator initiatives in the Midwest and on the East Coast are catching up with Northern California.”  Some of that is due to drought and new regulations on the use of groundwater and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our food systems.

But Ms. Lewis notes, “To tackle these challenges, a triangle of innovation should be connecting our region to Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, further aligning California’s commitment to environmental sustainability with its success in delivering high-quality food.

“As a sign of the payoff from past technology investments, California today produces 85 percent more food with 15 percent less water than it did 50 years ago. Tomorrow’s farm promises even more water efficiency by connecting irrigation and fertilization systems to wireless networks and the internet of things, to enable a new level of precision and conservation in how we produce food.”

She writes, “In the world of food and agricultural science, the University of California, Davis, is well recognized as a global leader. This helps the campus draw national and international assets to the Sacramento region and its economy, which is how the World Food Center – now approaching its third year at UC Davis – is building bridges to some of the most innovative food and ag-tech investors, incubators and accelerator programs. These connections are feeding our regional startups and seeding economic growth. But more is needed.”

She trumpets, “Mayor Kevin Johnson’s new Innovation and Growth Fund is a welcome start for attracting young entrepreneurs. To realize our goal of being the tech hub for food and ag, we need to continue to draw those investors and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and across the nation. This starts with strong regional partners, both public and private.

“To launch more companies, we need expanded angel and seed funding, incubator spaces that meet a range of technology needs and mentoring networks that guide entrepreneurs from concepts to products to market channels,” she said.  “A strong local foundation bolsters startups for drawing investment from Silicon Valley and from top strategic and venture investment groups nationally. Only a few startups make it all the way to an initial public offering or acquisition. But the numbers add up in terms of economic growth and visibility to investors and entrepreneurs outside our region.  Seizing this moment, our region can take the lead in shaping innovative technology solutions to feed the planet in healthy and sustainable ways.”

While all of this is good, I think it is important to note what she is not talking about.

Her discussion of economic development focuses on Sacramento and the region rather than Davis.  A billion a year plus industry could fuel Davis’ infrastructure needs for decades to come without sacrificing our commitment to the preservation of farmland – in fact the development of ag-tech, if anything, augments our commitment to the preservation of agricultural land and our urban-rural community.

And yet, there seems to be little in the way of angst in Davis over this lost opportunity.  The General Plan piece written in the Vanguard on Sunday generated sizable discussion, but only on the issue of housing, not on the issue of economic development or revenue news.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts III: The Nexus of Ag-Tech and Davis”

  1. Grok

    The General Plan piece written in the Vanguard on Sunday generated sizable discussion, but only on the issue of housing, not on the issue of economic development or revenue news.

    Probably because readers found the way you worded the housing question inflammatory because it excluded UCD from responsibility for housing new students as it increases its enrollment, while the economic question was better balanced.

  2. Tia Will

    And yet, there seems to be little in the way of angst in Davis over this lost opportunity. “

    Part of what has happened is that “the rise of incubator and accelerator initiatives in the Midwest and on the East Coast are catching up with Northern California.”

    Perhaps that is because some of us do not feel that it is necessary to be the absolute top, to the detriment of others, to be making an important contribution. Perhaps Davis is really not so much more important than the rest of the region or the rest of the country. Perhaps we could celebrate the successes of incubators and accelerator initiatives in other areas of the country rather than bemoaning their success as a “loss” for us. Are we really so small minded that we cannot appreciate the success of others whether those “others” are located in Woodland, or Sacramento, or the Midwest, but must see the successes of others only in terms of a loss to us ?

    1. The Pugilist

      I don’t think any one was suggesting a need to be the absolute top.  The need is to get some of the investment here.  I think we’re being small minded when we shirk off the need for anything.

      1. Tia Will

        Pugilist and pierce

        I don’t think any one was suggesting a need to be the absolute top”

        I believe that the actions of Chancellor Katehi and the words of her her supporters who made the point repeatedly that the goal was to increase the standing of the university serve as ample evidence that being at the top, as opposed to merely being excellent was indeed the goal.

        I understand the need for investment in our community. I do not believe that open support for a project that I thought was in the community best interest ( Nishi) is “shirking”. I do not however believe in a “grow as fast as we can” philosophy. And I certainly do not believe that we should be promoting the idea that the success of another community is our “loss”. I believe that mutual support and enhancement will prevail over competition if we allow them to. It was the relentless promotion of competition above all else that I was referring to as small minded, not any individuals…..and yet one of our  posters just could not resist the temptation for a personal dig…right h ?

         

        1. hpierce

          Let’s see… you implying others are “small minded” because they feel differently than you (and, the funny part is I absolutely believe that having to be #1 is nonsense) isn’t a personal dig, but punning off what you wrote is?  Whatever…

  3. Tia Will

    And yet, there seems to be little in the way of angst in Davis over this lost opportunity. “

    Part of what has happened is that “the rise of incubator and accelerator initiatives in the Midwest and on the East Coast are catching up with Northern California.”

    Perhaps that is because some of us do not feel that it is necessary to be the absolute top, to the detriment of others, to be making an important contribution. Perhaps Davis is really not so much more important than the rest of the region or the rest of the country. Perhaps we could celebrate the successes of incubators and accelerator initiatives in other areas of the country rather than bemoaning their success as a “loss” for us. Are we really so small minded that we cannot appreciate the success of others whether those “others” are located in Woodland, or Sacramento, or the Midwest, but must see the successes of others only in terms of a loss to us ?

  4. Jim Leonard

    The World Food Center exists so the world food supply can be privatized. Roger Beachy, a former Monsanto research director, heads the organization. He has stated he supports GMOs over chemical manipulation. The center is part of Janet Napolitano’s Global Food Initiative; she, of course, headed Homeland Security at one time. Dominate agriculture, dominate food. Dominate food, dominate people. This way the world is controlled.

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