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UC researcher in Merced to lead $1.5 million grant to develop climate-smart ag

Tapan Pathak, left, is a research specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension and UC Merced focusing on climate adaptation in agriculture.
Surendra Dara
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
Tapan Pathak, left, is a research specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension and UC Merced focusing on climate adaptation in agriculture.

The goals are to bolster climate research while building connections between academia and the industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new round of grants to support climate-smart agricultural practices, and $1.5 million is headed for Merced.

The team, led by Tapan Pathak, a research specialist at the University of California Cooperative Extension and UC Merced, is one of six public entities to split $9 million in awards from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative within the USDA’s National institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The goal of the investment isto bolster climate research and build connections with the agricultural community.

To Pathak, climate-smart ag means helping a$50 billion industry weather future changes while also mitigating risks by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water use. “Climate change threats are real and if we still want to be competitive, I think adaptation is the key to make it happen,” said Pathak. “How can we integrate all these different aspects and still be productive and also economically viable? And so this is how I define climate-smart ag.”

Many such tools are already in practice, including more robust crop varieties, cover cropping, and soil conservation practices like reduced tillage. But one of the goals of Pathak’s grant is to find new ways of bringing these tools to socially disadvantaged growers who may not have access to new research and technology, while also speaking to larger, industrial growers with more means. “This kind of grant is super critical in expanding our reach and addressing issues faced by farmers and ranchers across the state,” said Pathak. “Our hope is to develop tools that can help growers make strategic decisions to minimize some of the risks."

Pathak shares the grant with co-principal investigators from UC Davis, county Cooperative Extensions, and a newly formed USDA California Climate Hub. They plan to use the funding to distribute surveys to develop a needs assessment within the ag community, develop climate-smart workshops for growers as well as technical service providers, and to even create new college classes to bring tools and research to the next generation of growers. That will include a summer institute at UC Merced as well as courses at other undergraduate institutions “to get them ready, not just in terms of the academic or technical information, but also have them experience interacting with stakeholders, understanding their perspectives on climate change, and working on more practical applicable research and extension work,” said Pathak.

“These new NIFA-funded projects will work toward net-zero emissions in agriculture, working lands and communities adapted to climate change, training a diverse workforce that can communicate and incorporate climate considerations into management and climate justice that is appropriate for unique U.S. agronomic conditions,”said NIFA Director Dr. Carrie Castille in a USDA press release about the funding.

“The Cooperative Extension system and the USDA Climate Hubs have unmatched capacity to reach agricultural, Tribal and underserved communities, as well as educators and students, and our nation’s farmers directly,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in the release. “This partnership will strengthen climate research efforts and accelerate the development, adoption and application of science-based, climate-smart practices that benefit everyone.”

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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