Today, a whole host of new factors is changing agribusiness. Consumers — increasingly interested in both food and health — are driving the market for nutritious, locally produced, organic, environmentally sustainable, and humanely produced products.
Just as important, web-enabled technology plays a key role. The internet has created e-commerce opportunities to buy supplies, trade commodities and reach global markets. Farmers in California can easily manage daily operations from a mobile device rather than a pick-up truck.
That makes investments into applied research and the training and education of farmers essential to ensure the stability and growth of the state’s agricultural industry, especially in these areas:
California is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, with exceptional concentrations of endemic (restricted to California) species.
Unfortunately, California is also a “biodiversity hotspot” with endemic species experiencing an exceptional loss of habitat. Urban development coupled with climate change will drive habitat fragmentation and accelerate losses of biodiversity.
The Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) supports research that seeks to minimize the impact of agriculture and preserve and help protect natural resources and biodiversity. Much of the research at the interface of biodiversity and agriculture has taken place in the developing world, often in tropical areas that are converting forest ecosystems into agricultural land.
In North America, however, the conversion of wild lands into agricultural land largely occurred over a century ago and more land is lost to urban development.
The agriculture-biodiversity research area in developed economies has been largely overlooked and underdeveloped. With almost 26 million acres of farmland in California, agriculture is a substantial managed ecosystem and provides an ideal environment for conducting biodiversity-based agricultural research. As such, California can lead the nation in establishing practices that sustain biodiversity while preserving yields. The ARI has funded projects that include:
The world's population is predicted to exceed nine billion by the year 2050; at the same time, the pressure to repurpose arable land toward non-agricultural uses will increase.
Much the same is true of California. As our cities expand, the amount of prime agricultural land used for food production is reduced and often agriculture must compete for limited natural resources, especially water.
California agriculture feeds the state's burgeoning population and supports a robust agricultural export economy. New technologies are needed to sustain production, minimize environmental impact, and develop more nutritious, higher-value food and fiber products.
Multidisciplinary research teams from disciplines outside of traditional agriculture are contributing knowledge and skills to create new technologies and products. Biotechnology, including sequencing, phenomics and CRISPR/rDNA-aided reengineering, are being used to develop biological insight to guide genomic breeding and editing capabilities to develop new varieties that help solve agricultural problems.
Applied agricultural biotechnology research that’s co-funded by the Agricultural Research Institute and industry in these areas is important to the state's agricultural mission:
Consumer demand for convenience and the agricultural industry's increased awareness of consumer safety concerns continue to drive product development, processing practices, and marketing strategies.
According to the Food Marketing Institute, a supermarket in 2015 carries an average of 39,500 items. Product development is part art, part science and very competitive. In 2016, over 21,400 new food and beverage products were created in the U.S. by food scientists.
More than one-half of supermarket sales are perishable commodities, many of which are minimally processed. Outbreaks of foodborne illness and product recalls have heightened the public’s awareness of food safety. In response, regulatory agencies have increased their capabilities to trace food items through the production chain, from farm to fork using new technologies derived largely through advances in sequencing and biotechnology.
Research into applied food product development, processing, packaging and nutrition that is co-funded by the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) and industry has contributed to greater food safety, new products and student training by supporting projects in the following areas:
California's diverse climates and abundance of high-quality natural resources are the basis for its population growth and the diversity of its agricultural products.
The state is unusually rich in minerals, timber, fertile soil and watersheds, supporting some of the most productive farmland, forests, grazing land and watersheds in the world.
Collectively, the CSU has the wealth of knowledge and research experience in conservation and restoration techniques, compatible and sustainable multiple-use systems, and environmentally sound management practices needed to sustain the natural resource and agriculture foundation of the state for future generations. “Multiple use” includes the need to support grazing for livestock and wildlife, timber harvesting, opportunities for recreation, mining, and non-renewable (coal, gas, oil) or developing renewable (wind, solar) energy resources.
The Agricultural Research Institute, industry and federal agencies have collaborated on research projects focused on preserving, protecting and sustainably developing natural resources in the state. Representative projects include:
California continues to be the leading agricultural state in the U.S., with over 400 agricultural commodities valued at over $47 billion to farmers and ranchers (known as “farm gate value”) and over $20 billion in exports.
The backbone of the agricultural production system is the ability to meet market demand with high-quality products. Tremendous advances in production were achieved during the 20th century, with about half of the gain due to improved crop genetics and breeding, and the other half to cultural practices, including better water and fertilizer management and the use of safer, more effective pesticides.
The challenges to California agriculture in the 21st century are many. Agricultural producers will need to be highly efficient in water use while facing the ongoing pressures of exotic pests and diseases, increasing regulations on plant protection materials, and conflicts between the resource demands of agriculture versus those of a growing urban population.
Cultural practices such as irrigation and fertilization will be an effective tool by which to address the effects of climate change and mitigate the environmental impact associated with agricultural production. The integration of precision information systems (e.g., GPS-GIS systems), better adapted to climate change, and biotechnology will lead to more efficient production systems and improved management practices.
The Agricultural Research Institute is well-positioned to provide the critical applied research needed to advance these objectives and train the workforce that will be needed to implement these cultural practices:
California's future prosperity relies on making difficult, and sometimes controversial, policy choices when it comes to distributing economic and natural resources between agriculture and urban development.
Emerging biotechnologies continue to evolve, but to ensure their widespread adoption public policy should be informed by careful science-based evaluation of the benefits, potential risks and ethics of these technologies. Importantly, the benefits to society should be communicated to allay public concerns.
The Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) and its research collaborators are well-positioned to serve as non-partisan, scientifically based resources for policymakers. Wise choices about land use, water cost, water quality and allocation, air quality standards, farm worker safety, environmental protection and restoration, and agricultural and municipal waste management will heavily influence agriculture's future profitability, competitiveness, and sustainability.
The formation of agricultural policy involves a diverse set of stakeholders, but few Americans are directly involved in farming, ranching and timber production. Science-informed policies are more likely to sustain agriculture, protect the environment and provide California with a rich and diverse economic base. In addition to research conducted at the interface of public policy, science and agriculture, the ARI is supporting students to develop backgrounds in science and public policy through internships.
A short list of project and focus areas that have been supported by the ARI includes:
Demands on California’s water resources and its aging conveyance infrastructure have reached the crisis stage.
Climate change exacerbates the problem California faces to balance its finite water supplies against the needs of agriculture, the environment, and a growing population.
Global warming will contribute to droughts in California that are more frequent, severe and prolonged. A consequence of climate change will be a shift in precipitation from snowfall to rain and more extreme weather events. Accordingly, California's water infrastructure must adapt and over-drafted groundwater basins must be recharged. In response to the current drought, agricultural and urban water districts have implemented water efficiency technologies and conservation practices.
The Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) has been instrumental in the development, testing and evaluation of urban and agricultural irrigation equipment and systems for both public agencies and private business.
Additionally, ARI faculty have provided consumer education, industry training courses, and consulting services to irrigation and drainage personnel throughout California. The Institute will continue to provide research support for new and expanded irrigation industry partnerships and facilitate applied research in the following irrigation disciplines and those that are emerging: