UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Symposium on Future of the Food Value Chain in the Digital Age Draws Large Crowd

Jan. 2, 2019

At The Food Value Chain in the Digital Age mini symposium in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ARE) Library on Dec. 19, so many people attended that extra chairs kept having to be pulled out in the back of the room.

“I regard it as an encouraging signal that there’s substantial interest in the topic,” organizer and ARE Distinguished Professor Julian Alston said of the 56 attendees, including UC Davis faculty, graduate students, post-doc researchers, and more.

“What will farms and the food system look like 10, 20, and 50 years from now as farmers and the food industry increasingly adopt new digital technologies?” Alston wrote in the symposium flyer that drew the crowd. “How will this impact increasingly expensive labor, growing inequality, market organization and demand for food and fiber? What will be the implications for farm labor, rural communities, primary production, distribution, retail, and the consumer? What are the opportunities for productive scholarship in this domain? How can we at the University of California, Davis, contribute to understanding these transformative changes, their economic and social implications, and the potential roles for public policy?”

The workshop’s purpose was “to convene researchers and students at UCD from a variety of disciplines and fields of science and engineering who share an interest in studying and understanding the technical, economic, and social implications of the digital revolution as it relates to farms and the food value chain,” Alston further wrote in the flyer. “We understand that diverse strands of work are underway in several departments and centers on our campus. We see potential for benefits from a conversation to explore possibilities for new collaborative ventures and pursuing substantial external funding to help establish UC Davis as the world leader in studies of digital platforms, artificial intelligence, big data, and other aspects of the digital revolution as they relate to agriculture and the food value chain.”

Speakers included Professor Martin Kenney, UC Davis Department of Human Ecology Community and Regional Development, Professor David Slaughter, UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, and Dr. Fernanda Carolina Ferreira, Herd Health and Management Economics Specialist in the Department of Population Health and Reproduction at the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare.

Professor Kenney addressed how online shopping, computer algorithms, and the big data harvested from these transactions are changing commerce and the food supply chain. His hopes include that UC Davis research can help shape things in a positive direction. Professor Slaughter discussed the many ways technology is being brought into farming via mechanical harvesting, digital mapping of where every seedling is planted in order to allow mechanical weeding, and more. He leads the UC Davis Smart Farm initiative that promotes using technology to increase the production of food and renewable energy amid climate change and a growing worldwide population. Dr. Ferreira discussed how technology is increasingly being used worldwide to monitor livestock and milk production in order to increase yields and profitability. She also discussed how amid many companies using farmer and rancher data to create software or other products, the question is arising of who owns the data, and should farmers and ranchers receive compensation?

After each presentation, Alston allowed a few questions, and then a longer Q&A period after the event’s completion. Those in attendance were excited to share a bit of their own research and ask poignant questions that further displayed the expertise of each presenter.

Overall, Alston said the two-hour event was a success. He saw that important connections between researchers were made. Also, some expressed interest in helping organize another, larger event on the topic.


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