Collaboration Between Industry and Researchers at the Heart of the Salinas Biological Summit

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Industry

At the second annual Salinas Biological Summit on June 25-26, industry leaders are making headway on biological inputs as a tool for improving sustainability in agriculture. Biologicals are based on natural materials that support farm management, especially surrounding pests, soil biodiversity, and plant health. 

The Salinas Biological Summit saw an increase in the number of attendees compared to the 2023 Summit, indicating a strong interest in understanding biologicals and how to use them. Dave Puglia, President and CEO of Western Growers said that the agriculture industry is attempting to expedite the research and development processes, especially as farmers are losing access to synthetic crop protection tools. 

Salinas Biological Summit
President and CEO of Western Growers, Dave Puglia

Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), said that educating growers on biological inputs is the first step towards the expansion of the farm management toolbox.  

“Many challenges facing growers are escalating,” Ross said. There are “more invasive pest introductions, longer seasons, more generations, fewer tools, and resistance.” 

She also noted that following the 2023 Summit, the historic invasion of fruit flies in California citrus placed emphasis on improving sustainable methods of pest management, in which biologicals have potential. 

The CDFA is supporting research and educational endeavors by funding grants for Biologically Integrated Farming Systems and “proactive” integrated pest management. “It’s a way of bringing a whole commodity group or a whole region around a particular pest issue,” said Ross, “and then doing the trials, engaging the growers, providing technical expertise; we’ve been able to fund a few of those programs over the last three or four years.” 

Ross also said that a regulatory framework surrounding the use of biological inputs needs to be developed and supported with federal funding. 

“I believe that if we can really collaborate more closely with industry and our friends and academia, and we’ve got kind of a master plan approach of the technologies and tools that we’re looking for, we can better position our California researchers with industry partners to draw down some federal dollars for funding programs that can make a huge difference for our specialty crop growers,” she said. 

Salinas Biological Summit
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

The Salinas Biological Summit was also an opportunity to engage in discussions around economic concerns for developers and investors. “We want to come out of this session with a better-concentrated effort on pulling forward the startups in the biological space that can make a difference,” Puglia said. 

The industry is currently saturated with startups and not enough investors, so selecting a few businesses to implement their products in field trials to prove the economic viability of the industry is critical. 

Both Ross and Puglia mentioned that producing biologicals is a global discussion, with researchers coming from Canada, the European Union, and Brazil at the Summit. Bringing biologicals into California’s agriculture industry will “hopefully create a value proposition in the marketplace with the retailers who sell our products, that this is a better product than you might find from a foreign country. We’re really trying to stem the flow of farm capital from California to other states, and especially in other countries,” said Puglia. 

Puglia also noted that the diverse presence of growers, farm managers, and industry experts at the Salinas Biological Summit are the “folks who are responsible for the day-to-day operations and projecting the course for the farm in the next 10 to 15 years… they’re here and they’re expressing interest, that’s got to be a good sign.” 

Contributing Author:
Lauren McEwen
AgNet West Intern