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New Research Partnership Aiming to Provide Agricultural Leadership

April 24, 2007

-The San Joaquin Valley is arguably the most prolific
agricultural region in the world. To help ensure the San Joaquin
Valley’s agricultural economy remains vibrant and sustainable, the
University of California, Merced has joined forces with
Agriculturalists for Scientific Environmental Research (AFSER).
More than 60 members of the agricultural community will visit UC
Merced on Wednesday, April 25, to announce a collaboration aimed at
promoting crucial scientific research that addresses Valley
agricultural issues.

The partnership with AFSER, a group of prominent agricultural
leaders, was conceptualized and orchestrated by Yosemite Farm
Credit and will provide students and faculty with yet another
avenue to help determine the Valley’s bright future.

Sam Traina, vice chancellor for research, director of
graduate studies and director of the Sierra Nevada Research
Institute at UC Merced, said the partnership evolved out of two
years of dialogue between the new campus and the agricultural
community about ways the university could contribute its research
expertise to the entire San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural needs,
from dairy to tree crops.

“The goal of the partnership is for UC Merced faculty and
students to develop tools and conduct research relevant to the
local agricultural community,” Traina said. “The research will help
identify challenges and opportunities facing the agricultural
community and will provide them the information they need to make
informed decisions.”

The Merced County Community Foundation funded UC Merced’s
first AFSER grant of nearly $200,000, payable over the next 18
months. Using that support, engineering Professor Tom Harmon is
leading a team of students exploring ways to test nitrate levels in
soil and water. Harmon’s group is working on pilot testing a
sensor-based nitrogen and salinity monitoring system for
agricultural producers that would help dairy operators better
understand and precisely manage the way they fertilize their soils.

“We have the expertise and bright students who can do the
research and find the answers the agricultural industry needs,”
Harmon said. “Dairymen and farmers have opened up their dairies and
farms to enable us to develop the tools and provide the research
necessary to support sustainable agricultural practices.”

“UC Merced is a natural partner to provide research that is
relevant to farming in the Valley,” said AFSER President Henry te
Velde, who owns three dairies in Merced where he milks about 4,200
Holsteins. “Once the tools are in place, we can better measure the
environmental impact that farming has on the environment.”

Te Velde said that AFSER consists of dairies and farms in
Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties, but the group strives
to get more involved throughout the Valley.

“Our inaugural project funded through the partnership is the
first of what we envision as a wide range of research areas looking
at water, air and soil concerns,” Traina said. “This is just the
beginning of a monumental collaborative effort.”