FRESNO, Calif. — Fresno State graduate students Leah Groves and Moriah Mehlman are the perfect example why Oro Agri, an international leader in biorational crop products, continues to invest in the future of California agriculture through a partnership with Fresno State.
Mehlman, a research chemist at the company’s local U.S. headquarters, is working on a joint master’s project in the 120-acre campus vineyard with Groves, the campus vineyard manager.
They are studying the effects of a calcium-based supplement, NANOCAL, in table grapes to examine how this product is used by the plant to improve grape quality and storability after harvest.
That collaboration is another chapter in a series of partnerships that now includes a $100,000 gift to complete a campus viticulture greenhouse fundraising project. The new facility is tentatively slated to break ground this winter with an estimated $250,000 total cost.
“When we started Oro Agri 20 years ago, we knew California and the Central Valley’s unlimited agriculture opportunities would be our stepping stone to a successful future,” said Errol Pullen, Oro Agri founder and CEO. “This donation to Fresno State is our way of showing appreciation to all the growers and others involved in California agriculture for allowing us to follow our dreams and build our business here. But perhaps more importantly, the greenhouse will provide new generations a chance to follow their own dreams and make California and the Central Valley a land of opportunity for them and their families.”
The 30-foot by 30-foot greenhouse will be located at the center of the campus viticulture and enology complex and is expected to be completed by the fall of 2021. Working in it, faculty, students and staff can grow and graft an array of vines for the University Agricultural Laboratory and work on industry-supported research projects.
Half of the facility will be dedicated to projects that involve plant pathogens such as nematodes and powdery mildew, a fungal disease that affects a wide range of plants. Treatments could be tested in this area and kept separate from healthy plants in the other part of the greenhouse and the campus farm.
“The new greenhouse is a vital link between our research laboratories and the campus farm,” said Dr. Stephan Sommer, campus Viticulture and Enology Research Center director. “Faculty, staff and students can now propagate plants and prepare their field trials in a controlled environment to help us continue to expand our internationally-recognized research.”
The initial fundraising drive began more than seven years ago by the Fresno State Viticulture Club, and has been boosted each year by its Fall Harvest BBQ fundraiser. Two of the earliest gifts from that event came from John Duarte, who owns Duarte Nursery near Modesto, and John Arellano, a 1996 alumnus, whose company serves as a wine grape consultant and broker for Duarte Nursery.
Other funding sources include the Viticulture and Enology Research Center, a crowdfunding campaign, the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology and other alumni and friends.
Fresno State Viticulture Club adviser, faculty member and researcher Dr. Sonet Van Zyl has been a vital link for project supporters and students.
The associate professor joined the campus faculty in September 2011, and specializes in the areas of table and raisin grape production, organic product development and grape pest and disease management strategies. She has been an active research partner since 2016 with Oro Agri technical managers, all who also coincidentally hail from South Africa. That partnership has included campus projects that studied issues related to yield and quality enhancement of tomato, corn and soybean crops, as well as a multi-season grape color enhancement project.
The company has also conducted campus research projects related to weed control with viticulture and enology department chairperson Dr. Anil Shrestha and new bio-pesticide formulation screenings with plant science pathology faculty Dr. Margaret Ellis.
“We sincerely appreciate industry partners like Oro Agri that are creating new research opportunities,” said Van Zyl. The new greenhouse will offer an important area to address key issues that are affecting growers and companies alike.”
More details about a virtual groundbreaking event during the spring semester will be released when finalized.
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