Sustainability Gives UC David Strength for the Future
UC Davis is the top of the agricultural research charts yet again, so we looked into their beginnings and how they got to where they are today.
UC Davis is the home of the Aggies — go-getters, change makers and problem solvers who make their mark at one of the top public universities in the United States.
Since they were founded in 1905, they have been recognized for standout academics, sustainability and pride, as well as valuing the Northern California lifestyle. These themes are woven into their 100-plus-year history and their reputation for solving problems related to food, health, the environment and society.
the 5,300-acre campus is in the city of Davis, a vibrant college town of about 68,000 located in Yolo County. The state capital is 20 minutes away, and world-class destinations such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake Tahoe and the Napa Valley are within a two-hour drive.
29 percent of food bought for the dining commons is sustainably grown. The university’s own invention, the bio digester, has a daily capacity to turn 50 tons of waste into energy for the campus. The Tercero Phase 3 student housing project received the highest possible rating of platinum from the U.S. Green Building Council and the West Village community is designed to generate all the energy the community needs, mostly through solar power.
UC Davis is highly ranked in the nation and the world, by influential university ranking publications like U.S. News & World Report (national and global), QS World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and The Princeton Review. The Wall Street Journal has recognized UC Davis as the sixth-best public university in the United States in its 2016 inaugural Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Ranking.
UC Davis opened in 1908 as the University Farm, the research and science-based instruction extension of UC Berkeley. As the century evolved, their mission expanded beyond agriculture to match a larger understanding of how research efforts could benefit the public. By 1959, UC Davis had grown into a general campus with its own personality and strengths.
Over the years, as the geographical footprint developed, each new UC Davis presence — in Tahoe, Sacramento, Bodega Bay, Tulare, San Diego, Madrid and China, among others — has strengthened their ability to serve the public through research, academics and public service. Even before the first buildings were finished — and more than a year before the first students would arrive — the University Farm began laying the groundwork for its first research projects.
UC scientists dug experimental irrigation ditches and planted varieties of wheat, oats, barley and tomatoes. Soon to follow would be test crops of sugar beets, legumes and an array of fruit and almond trees. It began with just a few shovels of dirt and ordinary seeds (though some new wheat varieties came from Russia). Yet, even with those uncere monious beginnings, the University Farm turned its attention — and scientific methods — to addressing a pressing agricultural problem with profound economic, environmental and social implications for the state.
A wheat boom of the late 1800s — “California’s second gold rush,” as David Vaught, Ph.D. ’97, an associate professor of history at Texas A&M University, calls it — had gone bust. California had been one of the nation’s leading wheat producers in the 1870s and 1880s, and dryland wheat farming made some growers wealthy. But by the turn of the century, prices had dropped so low that farmers lost money and began replanting their wheat fields with fruits, vegetables, nuts and other crops.
“Wheat is a crop that rapidly destroys the fertility of the soil, and much of the land in the Central Valley had produced so many crops of wheat by the 1890s that the soil was exhausted,” said Donald Pisani, Ph.D. ’75, Merrick Chair of Western American History at the University of Oklahoma.
“Virgin soil that produced as much as 50 bushels an acre in the 1870s produced 10 or 15 bushels after a decade or so.”
Once a major wheat exporter, California had become a net importer, and in 1905, the state Legislature passed a bill giving UC $10,000 over two years for research to improve production of wheat and other cereal crops.
At the University Farm, UC researchers worked in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in testing not only new varieties and best cultivation methods, but also ways to restore worn-out soil.
A 1911 report that grew out of the cereal research, “How to Increase the Yield of Wheat in California” by UC agronomist G.W. Shaw, documented the benefits of rotating crops and the use of “green manure” or cover crops, such as peas, rye and vetch, to restore humus, fix nitrogen and improve the moisture content of the soil.
Other research, also done in cooperation with the USDA, evaluated different lining materials for irrigation ditches to reduce seepage and conserve water.
The university continues to carry out important agricultural research and find new ways to make the U.S. food and living conditions more sustainable for future generations.