UC Merced, Santa Cruz named agricultural experiment stations

Watermelons are harvested from farmland near the intersections of Green Sands Avenue and Gurr Road in Atwater, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

UC Merced hit a major milestone earlier this month when it was named an agricultural experiment station.

UC President Michael Drake made the announcement that UC Merced and Santa Cruz will become the newest campuses in the system to be named agricultural experiment stations (AES) during a recent UC Regents’ meeting, according to a university news release.

“With the AES designation, Santa Cruz and Merced have the potential additional funding from the University’s budget for (agricultural) research, and they will be able to make a stronger case for competitive grants in the larger research area,” Drake said.

UC Merced and Santa Cruz are the first campuses in more than 50 years to earn the designation. UCs Berkeley, Davis and Riverside already hold the distinction.

An AES is a place-based scientific research center at a land-grant university that explores challenges and develops improvements to different aspects of the agricultural endeavor by working with farmers, ranchers, suppliers, processors and others involved in food production and agriculture, according to a news release from UC Merced.

“Our campus has been working toward this designation for several years and it really enhances the UC’s already considerable and potentially world-changing research,” UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said in the release.

“It also helps fulfill the promise of the campus being located in Merced because so much of our research in agriculture is directly applicable to the communities of the San Joaquin Valley and many of our researchers at UC Merced are active in helping develop pathways to high- paying, skilled jobs in agriculture,” Sánchez Muñoz added.

UC Merced brings an engineering perspective through its agricultural research, including robotics to improve the food-water-energy nexus.

The university adds an engineering perspective through its focus on precision agriculture, including water, climate and wildfire challenges.

Researchers also examine opportunities in soil health, air quality and the reuse of agricultural byproducts; and delve into social justice by investigating the labor force and agriculture’s effects on the communities of the San Joaquin Valley—including public health impacts and disparities.

At each AES, campus-based researchers often work closely with Cooperative Extension specialists through UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR). Researchers also work across disciplines and with their counterparts at other campuses.

“The AES designation will allow us to expand our existing collaborations with Riverside, Davis and Berkeley, and strengthen our ties with Santa Cruz, especially through its expertise in agro-ecology,” said Professor Joshua Viers, who has served on the ANR Governing Council for several years and co-leads UC Merced’s new smart farm, which will become the campus’s AES facility.

“The UC is a leader in sustainable ag practices and it is important that the emerging strengths and location of Merced be part of a climate resilient food future.”

UC Merced has already been awarded significant funding for its agricultural research.

The university received $65 million from the federal Build Back Better Program to help develop the Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation (F3) Coalition to boost economic recovery after the pandemic.

The funding will help launch a state-of-the-art agricultural technology hub that will serve and connect farmers across the San Joaquin Valley to industry and spark a new, more advanced era in agriculture-based technology in an effort to boost productivity, create jobs and build capacity for regional sustainability.

UC Merced received $26 million from the National Science Foundation for an Engineering Research Center on the Internet of Things for Precision Agriculture and $20 million from the NSF and USDA for AgAID: AI Institute for Transforming Workforce & Decision Support, with Washington State and Oregon State universities , the release said.

“Our designation as an agricultural experiment station is a major milestone for UC Merced. We are striving to bring fresh perspectives to agriculture by working at the intersection of agricultural technology, safe and equitable farm work and environmental sustainability,” said Professor Tom Harmon, faculty director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and co-leader of the smart farm.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the campus’s Public Relations team. To contact the team, email PR@ucmerced.edu

Sports writer Shawn Jansen has been covering Merced area sports for 20 years. He came to Merced from Suisun City and is a graduate of San Diego State University. Prior to the Sun-Star, Shawn worked at the Daily Republic in Fairfield.

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