UC Merced Earns Agricultural Experiment Station Designation — Merced County Times

Professors Joshua Viers, left, and Tom Harmon share oversight of the new smart farm being built near campus.  The farm will be UC Merced's AES site.
Professors Joshua Viers, left, and Tom Harmon share oversight of the new smart farm being built near campus. The farm will be UC Merced’s AES site.

UC Merced and Santa Cruz have become the newest campuses in the system to be named Agricultural Experiment Stations (AES), UC President Michael Drake announced at today’s Regents meeting.

They are the first campuses in over 50 years to win the designation.

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

An AES is a site-based scientific research center at a land-grant university that explores challenges and develops improvements to various aspects of agricultural activity, working with farmers, ranchers, suppliers, processors, and others involved in food and agriculture production.

“Our campus has been working toward this designation for several years, and it truly enhances UC’s already considerable and potentially world-changing research,” said UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “It also helps fulfill the promise of having the campus located in Merced, as much of our agricultural research is directly applicable to communities in the San Joaquin Valley, and many of our researchers at UC Merced are active in helping develop pathways to paid, skilled jobs in agriculture.”

Three other campuses – UC Berkeley, Davis and Riverside – already hold the AES designation and bring their individual expertise to the California agricultural industry.

UC Merced adds an engineering perspective by focusing on precision agriculture, including robotics to improve the food-water-energy nexus. Researchers also look at agriculture through the lens of complex systems management, examining water, climate and fire challenges; examining opportunities for soil health, air quality and reuse of agricultural by-products; and delve into social justice by investigating the workforce and effects of agriculture on San Joaquin Valley communities, including public health impacts and disparities.

At each AES, campus researchers often work closely with cooperative extension specialists through UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR).

Researchers also work across disciplines and with their counterparts on 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, particularly through its expertise in agroecology,” said Professor Joshua Viers, who served on the Board of Directors of NRA several times. years and co-leads UC Merced’s new Smart Farm, which will become the campus’ AES facility. “UC is a leader in sustainable agricultural practices, and it is important that Merced’s emerging strengths and location be part of a climate-resilient food future.”

UC Merced has already begun to be recognized for those emerging strengths through recent awards such as:

• $65 million from the federal Build Back Better program to help develop the Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation (F3) Coalition to boost post-pandemic economic recovery. The funding will help launch a state-of-the-art agricultural technology center that will serve and connect San Joaquin Valley farmers to industry and usher in a new, more advanced era in agriculture-based technology in an effort to increase productivity, create jobs employment and capacity building for regional sustainability; • $26 million from the National Science Foundation for an Internet of Things Engineering Research Center for Precision Agriculture; • $20 million from NSF and USDA for AgAID: AI Institute for Transforming Workforce & Decision Support, with Washington State and Oregon State Universities; • $6.5 million from the Irvine Foundation for Central Valley Labor Collaboration, led by the Labor and Automation in California Agriculture (LACA) collaboration, led by Merced. “Our designation as an Agricultural Experiment Station is a major milestone for UC Merced. We strive to bring new perspectives to agriculture by working at the intersection of agricultural technology, safe and fair agricultural work, and environmental sustainability,” said Professor Tom Harmon, faculty director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and co-leader of the Smart Farm. “A great example is the multicampus initiative led by UC Merced LACA. It is inspiring to see our hard work validated by this designation.”

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