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Strawberry fields forever — with some help from mathematicians!

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California berry growers and mathematicians team up for water conservation, and more

The Pajaro Valley in California’s Monterey Bay area is ideally suited for agriculture. In fact, the Pajaro Valley and the nearby Salinas Valley produce nearly half of the strawberries grown in the United States yearly. But, the water source for the valley is a confined underground aquifer that is slowly being depleted.

How can mathematics help solve this problem? In January 2011, the American Institute of Mathematicsheld a Sustainability Problems workshop with the goal of bringing together mathematicians and industry representatives to work on a variety of sustainability problems, including renewable energy, air quality, water management and other environmental issues.

During the week of the workshop and with follow-up activity, a team headed by mathematicians Kathleen Fowler and Lea Jenkins has made significant progress in the creation of a virtual farm model to study alternative crop management strategies and their effect on water usage and profit. The team also investigated a surface water analysis to understand feasible ways to capture rainfall for re-infiltration (or recharging) into the aquifer.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1128242, American Institute of Mathematics Research Conference Center: A Model for Collaborative Research.