The University of California announced the establishment of a new institution to focus exclusively on organic production earlier this year. The organic sector continues on its path of expansion, pushing the need for more specialized research. The California Organic Institute is being developed through a collaboration between Clif Bar & Company and the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) division. An endowed institution such as this will provide unique opportunities that may not be possible in more traditional, individual endowments.
“If you have one person, there’s going to be a lot of focus on their disciplines and their area of emphasis, and that’s good in many ways,” said Houston Wilson, Director of the new institute. “But there’s a lot more power to having this dynamic institute that can look at not just entomology issues, but plant pathology, crop nutrition, soils, irrigation, etcetera. So, that’s where the institute is kind of more of an entity to bring people together.”
The California Organic Institute is working on the development of research and extension programs to enhance the organic sector. Specifically, the institute will be working on the production of organic tree nuts, tree fruit, raisins, and rice. Wilson has been hard at work in establishing the governance protocols for the institute and developing its strategic vision. Outreach with the organic community has begun, in order to get a baseline of where the institute can best serve industry needs.
“We’re going to conduct a more formal needs assessment over the coming year. That will allow us to create a roadmap for the research and extension needs. That’s going to involve surveys and focus groups with growers,” Wilson explained. “It’s going to involve extension-type meetings where we bring together researchers and growers and other stakeholders to discuss the current status of organic.”
The institute will draw heavily on work already being performed by UC ANR’s Cooperative Extension and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. The California Organic Institute will serve as a hub for connecting organic producers with specialized assistance and industry resources. Wilson explained the institute holds tremendous potential for building out research areas and advancing the entire organic industry. “There’s a lot of bigger, longer-term visions that I have for the institute. Some of which will be contingent on what we find in the needs assessment and what sort of funding support we can garner to push some of these visions forward,” Wilson noted.
Listen to the interview below.