by J. Greenberg
The Central Valley
has long been known as the "Breadbasket of the World" -- what
better place to hold the first ever Ministerial Conference on Agriculture?
USDA Secretary Ann Veneman -- herself a Valley native -- presided over
the three-day convention that brought delegates from over 100 nations
Ministers from Afghanistan
to Zambia came to learn how the latest breakthroughs in agricultural
science and technology could help fight hunger around the world.
Many of those new
technologies were developed or refined right here in the Central Valley,
home to many of the world's top agricultural companies and institutions.
Foremost among them is the University of California at Davis, originally
founded in 1908 as the "University Farm."
Dr. Eduardo Blumwald
-- a professor at UC Davis since 2000 -- recently won the prestigious
Humboldt prize for his work developing a tomato that would grow in salt-tainted
a single gene in his tomato plants, which allowed them to store more
salt in their leaves -- without absorbing it in their fruits. He hopes
to use this same technique in alfalfa and other crops.
To that end, the
University has recently completed a center dedicated to Plant Transformation,
the manipulation of species on a genetic level.
this technology will lead to plants that can grow in a number of harsh
environments, to help eliminate hunger around the world. But many nations
have been reluctant to embrace these new genetically modified crops.
Indeed, even in the face of famine, Zambia made headlines by refusing
a US aid shipment of genetically modified corn. Ironically, their fight
against GMOs was led by Drina Nyirenda, a native of Zambia who received
her Ph.D. at UC Davis.
GMOs are controversial
in the U.S. as well, as evidenced by the protestors outside the Ministerial
Conference, who let the delegates know that although the Valley is a
hotbed of agricultural research, there's another essential side that
they shouldn't overlook. They say the Central Valley is also a wonderful
breeding ground for organic agriculture, and sustainable agriculture.
Given the history
and importance of agriculture in our region, it's not surprising that
Valley farmers employ techniques that run the gamut from the latest
technology to the oldest methods known. And our research reflects that
as well. Scientists at UC Davis work both ends of the technological
spectrum -- and many of their efforts aim to replace old toxic science
with new, more environmentally safe approaches. For 23 years, the University's
Integrated Pest Management Program has helped farmers reduce pesticide
use, improve the profitability of their farming, reduce the environmental
impact of pesticide use, and improve the health of farmworkers.
Much of their work
involves the use of pheromones -- chemicals male insects use to find
females for mating. Pheromone laced traps and lures keep pests like
the peach twig bore and coddling moths from breeding, offering cheap
and eco-friendly protection to orchards and fields. But farmers aren't
the only ones to benefit from the program's work.
The program's website
receives 17,000 hits a day -- not only from farmers, but from urban
dwellers who are trying to control ants, or other pests they might have
around the home and garden.
often has unintended consequences. A perfect example is the development
of the tomato harvester in the 1960s. Before the agricultural engineers
at UC Davis could employ their invention, they needed to tap the skills
of the University's plant breeders and geneticists.
First, they needed
to develop a tomato plant whose fruit would ripen all at the same time;
then, a tomato tough enough to withstand harvesting by machine. Farmers
benefitted through faster and more efficient harvesting...but not everyone
was happy. Farm workers complained the new technology was costing them
jobs. But today, the tomato harvester is often hailed for introducing
the job of sorter to the fields -- much less backbreaking than the labor
required to harvest by hand.
Only time will tell
what the next great innovation in agriculture will be. But change is
inevitable -- and to be successful tomorrow, the next generation of
farmers must start adapting today.