New Research Partnership Aiming to Provide Agricultural Leadership

MERCED -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."





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