LOS ANGELES, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Some 160 kilometers northeast to the famous Silicon Valley in the U.S. state of California, a new agriculture-based high-tech cluster is forming around the University of California Davis campus, renowned for agricultural research.
Dubbed as the "Agriculture Silicon Valley" by some media, the area has nurtured hundreds of hi-tech agricultural companies surrounding the 65,000-people small city of Davis and some neighboring cities in Northern California.
"We have an industry around here," said Kent Bradford, professor of UC Davis'Department of Plant Sciences who formally launched the Seed Biotechnology Center (SBC) in 1999.
"Just in the agricultural seed world, there are about 50 seed companies right around Davis. If you add down to Salinas area, there are about 150 seed companies in Northern California. Nine of the world top-tier (seed) companies have offices here (in this area)," said Bradford, who is now serving as the director of the SBC.
Ranking 2013-2014 global No.1 in the agriculture and forestry field by the "QS World University Rankings by Subject," UC Davis, which was the university farm in 1905 and changed to an agriculture college in 1922, is crucial to the "Agriculture Silicon Valley" just like Stanford to Silicon Valley.
In the campus some 32 kilometers away from the state capital Sacramento, cattle ranch and greenhouse structures can be seen among labs and teaching buildings. A road is named "Diary Rd."
Companies in the agriculture related industries are trying to be closer to the research facilities around UC Davis, such as the World Food Center and the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, and taking advantage of the innovations coming out of the campus, from plant and animal genetic engineering to smart devices used in farming.
Venture capitals, crucial to the prosperity of Silicon Valley, are keeping a close eye on the high-tech start-ups sprouting around the campus.
Fourteen start-ups were founded with UC Davis support last year. Tule Technologies Inc. is one of them.
Tom Shapland, who received his doctorate in 2012 from UC Davis' s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, started Tule in January 2014 that licensed his research measuring agricultural water use from the university.
The main products of the company are sensors with real-time measures of water use in farmers'fields. The technology is seen to have great commercial potential as California enters the fourth year of serious drought.
Tule got seed funding and help with business formation at Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley incubator for high-tech start-ups. It also raised more than 1 million dollars in venture capital from Khosla Ventures, Bloomberg Beta and others, according to UC Davis.
"Venture capital goes wherever innovations are," said James D. Murray, a professor of Animal Science Department who leads a research on using genetic modification to develop goats whose milk contains high level of antimicrobial lysozyme found in human breast milk that could help treat childhood diarrhea.
"California is a perfect place to do agricultural research," said Murray. Some 76,000 farms in California are growing more than 400 crops. Nearly half of the nation's fruits, vegetables and nuts are produced in this state. More than a dozen commodities including almonds, dates, figs, raisins are only commercially produced in California, where the climate is reminiscent of moderate Mediterranean nature.
As the nation's top agricultural state, California attained 46. 4 billion dollars in agricultural output in 2013. The leading position provides good opportunities not only for agricultural researches but also for the commercialization of agriculture- related innovations.
Both Murray and Bradford believe agriculture technologies can help feeding the world as global population may reach 9 billion in 2050.
"We see the Silicon Valley has greatly changed the world during the past three decades," said Bradford. "Agriculture technologies can also greatly benefit the world."