Even before there was an actual campus here, UC Merced was green. Its designs and plans — down to the smallest detail — embody the word “sustainability,”Opens a New Window. and each year, the campus is proving that it maintains itself in a sustainable way. -- UC Merced Bobcatflak, 2016
UC Merced's intrepid bobcatflaksters have spread the news far and wide that a modestly named global fertilizer firm, Yara, has sent the "green" campus $60,000 for almond research.
We note, by way of background, that a "university" that produced the "Fairy Shrimp Chronicles" that purported to be an historical account of the founding of the campus, gets an F in history, for starters. Nevertheless, let's attempt a little education of the grant-whoring administrators of UC Merced.
Yara is a spinoff of Norsk Hydro, which first applied the technique of extracting nitrogen from the atmosphere to produce artificial fertilizers in a commercially viable way. Norsk also produced heavy water for the Nazi atomic bomb development during WWII until saboteurs and Allied bombers blew up its heavy metal plant.
As capitalist industries developed in the 19th century, there just wasn't enough Peruvian/Ecuadorian bat guano to fuel industrial agriculture and the industrialized world was facing a catastrophic loss of soil fertility due, in the end, to the concentration of horse power in industrial cities and the lack of manure for the fields. The conversion to mechanized agriculture worsened the problem. Artifical fertilzers produced by Norsk Hydro were the technological advance needed. Today, the increase in population and accelerated urbanization will insure steady growth in the production of artificial fertilizers.
But artificial fertilizers pollutes groundwater with nitrates. In a report titled The Human Costs of Nitrate-contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley; Pacific Institute; March 2011, Eli Moore, Eyal Matalon et al found:
The eight-county San Joaquin Valley has some of the most contaminated aquifers in the nation: 92 drinking water systems in the San Joaquin Valley had a well with nitrate levels above the legal limit from 2005-2008, potentially affecting the water quality of approximately 1.3 million residents. In addition to public water systems, the State Water Board sampled 181 domestic wells in Tulare County in 2006 and found that 40% of those tested had nitrate levels above the legal limit.
Meanwhile, on the surface of the land, thousands of acres of unirrigated, unfertilized (except by cows) seasonal pastureland in Merced County alone, have been converted to almond production. Much of this production has been outside the service areas of irrigation districts providing surface water. The new orchards drill deeper and deeper wells and put the land they are planted on in danger of soil subsidence that will cause the collapse of the aquifer that irrigates them. To paraphrase Sir Thomas More's retort to the perjured testimony that convicted him,
It profits a university nothing to sell the memory of history for the whole world ... but for $60,000?
But, oh well, who's Sir Thomas More, what's history, and the whole world? There is nothing beyond UC Merced but what it says there is. And it says that the dwarf almond tree, as planted by former state Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Bill Lyons in the story below, is what is.
Lyons is a contributor to UCM and his ranch, the Mapes Ranch, located west of Modesto where Maze Road hits the river, was once considered a possible site for a UC campus in the San Joaquin Valley, along with a lot of other sites.
So, Kah-ching, ching, ching, let the dim bulbs sing and drown out the sound of aquifers crashing and farmworker children sickening.
Fa, la, la, la, la, etc.
Global company partners with UC Merced for almond research
Yara North America, a global company known for its fertilizers, is giving UC Merced $60,000 to fund a graduate fellowship and two undergraduate scholarships for research in the almond industry.
The Yara North America Almond Scholarship and Fellowship Fund will expose the students to areas of research such as soil fertility, plant nutrition and water nutrient efficiency across disciplines, a news release from the university announced. The research will focus on almond crops.
“This generous contribution from Yara North America allows UC Merced to expand on the outstanding agriculture-related research our faculty members and students are already conducting,” Kyle Hoffman, the university’s vice chancellor for development and alumni relations, said in the news release. “It will give more students the opportunity to discover solutions to the agriculture industry’s most pressing questions.”
UC Merced is in the final selection process for the new fellowship and scholarships, and research is expected to begin in the spring semester.
Yara is known for its crop nutrition programs and technologies to increase yields and has worked with farmers in North America for 70 years.
This is the company’s first project to support students and research at a California university. Yara is looking into the opportunities and challenges facing the California almond industry. The company used its relationship with the Almond Board of California when looking for an ideal research partner.
Almonds are Merced County’s No. 2 commodity, with gross production in 2015 at more than $550 million, according to the county’s most recent crop report. Almond prices dipped a bit in 2015 from 2014 while San Joaquin Valley farmers dealt with a fifth year of unprecedented drought conditions.
“We are combining resources to develop creative solutions to issues surrounding agriculture, such as conserving water, increasing crop health and yield, and improving the environment,” said Gary Vogen, Yara North America’s vice president of corporate affairs.
Research from UC Merced faculty already has benefited the agriculture industry in sectors such as food processing. UC Merced scientists at the Sierra Nevada Research Institute also are studying methods to forecast and measure water supply in the Sierra watersheds and in Valley groundwater aquifers. Other researchers are using drones to monitor soil and crop conditions.
Grower takes new approach to almond harvest
Dust rises as machines harvest almonds up and down the Central Valley. Except on 10 acres southwest of Modesto, where a new method is getting a look.
Billy Lyons created a test plot that is not harvested the conventional way, with one machine shaking the nuts to the ground and another picking them up. The work is done by a modified olive harvester that strips the almonds from the branches and tosses them into a gondola without hitting the dirt.
“Very little dust — that’s the driver on this,” said Bob Curtis, director of agricultural affairs at the Almond Board of California. He was among the observers at a demonstration of the method Wednesday.
Lyons is part of the family that owns Mapes Ranch, a large expanse of cattle and diverse crops along Highway 132. His father is Bill Lyons Jr., former food and agriculture secretary for the state.
Billy Lyons planted the test plot with dwarf trees at high density so it would be suited to the olive harvester, which reaches into the canopy and knocks the crop off as it moves along.
Almonds are among the biggest crops in California, with $6.77 billion in gross income to growers in 2014. About a third of the volume is in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties.
Excessive dust from the August-October harvest can irritate sensitive people and even cause vehicle accidents. The problem is much reduced from decades past, thanks in part to Modesto-area equipment makers that have refined the shake-and-pickup method.
Lyons’ trees were planted three years ago at about 900 per acre, compared with about 120 in a conventional orchard. He said the smaller canopy allows for pruning by machine rather than hand tools, and the reduced root zone means less water and fertilizer.
“The whole idea is to try to cut costs,” Lyons said. He expects yields to be similar to those of almond orchards in general.
Growers also have to rent bee colonies for pollination each winter, but the test plot has an advantage here, too. The trees are self-fertile, meaning some of the pollen is transferred from the anther to the stigma within the same flower. Bees are still needed to move pollen from bloom to bloom, but at a lower number.
Zaiger Family Genetics of Modesto created the self-fertile variety, Independence. It was grown for the test plot by Dave Wilson Nursery of Hickman, using rootstock from Agromillora California Nursery in Butte County.
Eli Moore, Eyal Matalon et al; The Human Costs of Nitrate-contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley; Pacific Institute; March 2011 http://pacinst.org/app/uploads/2013/02/nitrate_contamination3.pdf
UC Merced Bobcatflak; Green from the ground up; UC Merced; 2016. http://www.ucmerced.edu/green-ground
Yara International flak; The History of Yara; 2016; http://yara.com/about/history/
Claudia Newcorn: Is there enough water for people and nuts? Modesto Bee; Oct. 27, 2014; http://www.modbee.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/community-columns/article3408802.html