UC Merced proposes to develop the Experimental Smart Farm (ESF) project in the
southeastern portion of the campus in multiple phases. The initial phase planned for development includes approximately 33 acres for agricultural research and planting and approximately 14 acres for facilities and equipment staging area. The first phase of the ESF project would primarily test existing infrastructure and familiarize researchers with the site conditions including soil properties, pests and crop diseases, and groundwater and surface water behavior. Research activities would likely include baseline surveys, in -field soil sampling, installation, and operation of agricultural technology such as soil and weather sensors, and general agricultural operations. At full buildout, access to farm facilities for research would be expanded. Proposed research activities would require development and approval of detailed plans prior to
implementation but uses are anticipated to be similar to Phase 1 research activities. The farm is proposed in an area of the campus that is currently used as an irrigated pasture with active cattle grazing. The area for proposed crop plantings has historically been used for row crops such as alfalfa and corn as well.
Future phases and ultimate project buildout would consist of a more permanent, visitor-friendly research farm. The objectives for future phases of work would be to (1) install permanent structures to support ongoing research on site (i.e., restrooms, classrooms and meeting spaces, composting facilities, storage); (2) improve access roads, gates, and parking; and (3) expand agricultural research to the full site acreage.
The project would include the following primary components:
• A central farm facilities area (approximately 14 acres), that would include bathrooms, meeting space(s), tool and equipment storage, water storage tanks, shade structure(s), electrical infrastructure, and limited parking as part of Phase 1 development, with permanent buildings and facilities added over time to support farm operations, research activities, education, and outreach during future phases;
• An approximately 33-acre initial agricultural use area (i.e., Phase 1), including row crops, permanent crops, irrigation lines, reservoirs, monitoring equipment, weather station, and other agricultural infrastructure to facilitate research activities;
• Additional approximately 154 acres of agricultural fields within future agricultural use areas that would be focused on permanent cropping systems (e.g., orchards); and
• Access route improvements along Meyers Gate Road and the Solar Array Road, consisting initially of gravel road surfacing and paved surfacing at project buildout.
The proposed action is for the approval of the proposed minor LRDP Amendment (LRDP Amendment No. 1) to the 2020 LRDP which proposes to amend the language of the 2020 LRDP Campus Building Reserve/Support Land (CBR/SL) and Passive Open Space (POS) land use designations to clarify that agricultural research would be allowed within existing agricultural fields in the CBR/SL and POS land
use designations. This will allow Phase 1 to commence.