REC System Director Haver encourages systemic approach to agriculture

REC System Director Haver encourages systemic approach to agriculture

Agriculture generates $59 billion and employs nearly 400,000 individuals in California. The industry, however, is often threatened by challenges like climate change, land conversion and water scarcity. Motivated to act, Sustain Southern California – an organization associated with UC Irvine Beall Applied Innovation – hosted a roundtable discussion on Feb. 20 featuring subject matter experts including Darren Haver, director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Research and Extension Center System.

During his keynote address, Jose Arriaga, Orange County Agricultural Commissioner, defined sustainability as food and fiber production that does not compromise the ability for future generations to meet their needs. In doing so, he acknowledged the benefit of discussing such timely topics with key players, especially for places where agriculture is not as prevalent as it used to be. 

“Many people don't think of Orange County as a place for agriculture. It's probably because less land is being reserved for agriculture, not like back in the day. And that worries me,” said Arriaga. 

The first roundtable discussion centered on sustainable agriculture, with Haver participating alongside other industry leaders based in Southern California, including A.G. Kawamura of Orange County Produce, Steve Brazeel of Sunterra Produce and Elevated Foods, Anthony Curci of Buttonwood Ranch and Parker Cohn from Performance Resource Management.

In discussing today's generation, Haver said that he has seen a shift over the last few decades away from yield alone, which used to be the most important aspect of production in agriculture. Today, much more attention is dedicated to sustainability – a change that Haver attributes to the younger generation of researchers and plant scientists working in agriculture.

There has also been an emphasis on sustaining the environment while maintaining economic progress. Haver recognized these important elements, but highlighted the social impact of sustainability, too.

“I don't have all the answers, but I do believe that addressing the environmental, economic and social aspects of agriculture is important. I also think that these factors should be addressed systemically rather than in silos,” said Haver.

Southern California agricultural producers, in particular, are responsible for $7.8 billion in gross receipts and nearly 100,000 jobs directly related to agriculture. In Orange County alone, where Haver is based at the South Coast Research and Extension Center, agriculture makes up $86 million of total economic output, with nurseries leading as a top commodity followed by fruit trees, vegetable production and livestock and apiary.