The College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences’ Geography Professor Gabriel Granco was awarded the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) Grant for nearly $10,000. The research aims to address the production of specialty crops in California by tapping into geospatial technology to test what might be suitable to grow for current and future environmental conditions. The specialty crops included in the research are grapes, almonds, strawberries, walnuts, and pistachios. These fruits and nuts generated $ 20.8 billion for the state’s economy in 2017. Granco breaks down the purpose of his research and its importance.
Q: What is the significance of the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) grant for the geography and anthropology department and CPP overall?
A: The ARI CPP Seed Grant indicates that geography plays a critical role in advancing the sustainability of agricultural production in California and the world. Using geospatial methods, such as geographical information systems (GIS) and spatial analysis, we can find new information that we can share with society and hopefully help us plan for the future. More specifically, geography and geospatial methods can contribute to the advancement of agriculture by examining the spatial characteristics of current production areas and how the geographical conditions may change in the future. Furthermore, the ARI grant highlights the interdisciplinary nature of the Department of Geography and Anthropology and the potential for collaboration with other colleges at CPP. For CPP, this grant promotes the teacher-scholar and the learn-by-doing approaches by supporting faculty research relevant to Southern California and the classes offered by the Department of Geography and Anthropology.
Q: How has your work/research led up to the awarded ARI Grant (mapping the production of specialty crops in CA)?
A: My research focuses on human-environment interaction. I want to understand why humans interact with the environment in a certain way in specific locations so that we can learn and work on improving the world to make it a better place. Agriculture is a great topic to study because it is specific to certain locations due to both physical and cultural geography. In my previous research, I worked with the agricultural production of sugarcane in Brazil. This crop shares similarities with specialty crops in California.
In Brazil, I found evidence that regions receiving most of the investments for new agricultural production are the same regions that will suffer the most with climate change. This can be bad news for farmers and the sugarcane industry. Still, it is also an opportunity to look for innovative ways to adapt production to future climate conditions and advance in studies that prevent such disconnection between investment and the least suitable area for production. Because these findings are valuable to society and its adjustment to future climate scenarios, I want to expand this research to as many specialty crops as possible so that farmers can have a better outlook on what the future holds in terms of suitability for their crops, thus aiding their decision-making process.
Q: What led to your interest in mapping the production of specialty crops?
A: California has a unique set of conditions to produce specialty crops that are important to the whole country. By working at CPP and being closer to this reality, I found that my research could help inform farmers and the industry to make decisions leading to the successful production of great food while adapting to climate change. Future climate conditions are vital for specialty crops due to the long-term commitment required to produce them. Specialty crop farmers cannot change their crops as easily as other farmers when the price drops or when they experience crop failures. Therefore, specialty farmers can benefit from current and predicted information forwhere to grow their crops and where the most suitable areas will be in the future. However, this information is not easy to find. The research funded by the ARI grant is a first step in answering these needs and making the information available for all.
Q: How does this research opportunity benefit our undergraduate students?
A: The research is an excellent opportunity for undergraduate students, as I will be incorporating many of the real-world problems studied in this research into my classes on GIS, environmental modeling with GIS, and quantitative spatial analysis. Moreover, I have a research group where undergraduate students can learn more about this research and other studies on human-environment interaction. Students participating in the research group can contribute to answering an important question on how we can increase agricultural production while protecting the environment and adapting to climate change. To solve this complex problem, the students will be using advanced GIS and spatial analysis to create maps and extract information on where the best production areas for specialty crops are located. The fascinating thing is that students who are just starting their studies in GIS, for instancestudents taking GEO-2400, can already contribute to this research and play an active role in helping food production and environmental protection. Also, the research group is open to all students, as long as they know GIS.
Q: In your proposal for the ARI grant you mentioned that the “results of this research will inform farmers of the suitability of their land and the probability of being affected by future environmental conditions,” and your research includes plans to review climate conditions ranging from 2008-2018, but will you work directly with any farmers in Southern California?
A: This research was not designed to have a direct connection with any specific farmer in Southern California. However, I believe that collaborating with them would enrich the depth of the proposed work, so I welcome any future collaboration in that sense. Indeed, some of the specialty crops that will be analyzed are produced here in Southern California, thus favoring potential partnerships to broaden the research to address issues faced by farmers in our region and incorporate local data.
Q: Will you be using resources/collaborating with the College of Agriculture? If so, how?
A: At the moment, I do not have a collaboration with the College of Agriculture. One of the undergraduate researchers in the research group is a plant science major. I see the opportunity to partner with the College of Agriculture as paramount to investigate the mechanisms employed by farmers and how they relate to the spatial patterns that my research will tackle.
Q: What are you most excited about in beginning this research?
A: What I am most excited about is to have my first research in California. I am fortunate to pursue research focusing on contributing to my local environment. Also, I am eager to know more about the spatial relations necessary to grow specialty crops and to have the students in my research groups engaging in this important work.
Q: How do you think this research will impact the crop industry in a post COVID-19 world, if at all?
A: This is an important topic, as the pandemic is affecting everyone and all the economic sectors. In the post-COVID-19 world, I believe that science and modeling can contribute to advance our society toward a more sustainable future. Also, research must be conducted safely. The method used in this research employs a combination of remote sensing, GIS, and machine learning. All these techniques can be done respecting the social distancing and personal safety guidelines for COVID-19. For farmers and others interested in this study’s results, our model can also reduce the need for extensive and repetitive fieldwork, thus minimizing the exposure of workers to risk situations.
Q: How long do you anticipate this research to take place?
A: This is the initial step in what I hope will be a long-term research project examining the interaction of agricultural production, environmental conditions, and climate change. The ARI CPP Seed Grant is for the academic year of 2020/2021. The research topic can be expanded to other crops – the ARI grant will focus on only five specialty crops – and other regions. The goal is to have the first results, such as initial suitability maps and future suitability maps, ready by the end of Summer 2021. I am fortunate to have great undergraduate researchers engaged in this project and helping to achieve the research goals. From there, I plan to keep improving our knowledge by examining new crops, environmental factors, and regions, always engaging students in the applied work and the classroom.