Fresno State begins construction on new viticulture greenhouse

Sonet Van Zyl, associate professor of viticulture, and Johan Coetzee, OroAgri technical director, spoke at the groundbreaking event on Jan. 29. (Jannah Geraldo/The Collegian)

The Fresno State viticulture and enology department celebrated a virtual groundbreaking event for the new viticulture greenhouse on Jan. 29.

Those present were Fresno State Interim president Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, along with several faculty members including Stephan Sommer, director of the Viticulture and Enology Research Center at Fresno State; Dennis Nef, dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology; Anil Shrestha, chair of the department of viticulture and enology; and Sonet Van Zyl, a viticulture professor and adviser of the viticulture club.

Set to be located in the center of the Viticulture and Enology Complex, the 30-by-36 foot greenhouse will host research projects and use the university’s 120-acre vineyard. Faculty and students will have the opportunity to conduct different industry-funded projects.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing all the students and all the projects in the greenhouse because right now it’s just an empty space, and once we have the greenhouse then we can fill it with life. It will be beautiful,” Sommer said.

According to the department, the greenhouse will be completed in fall 2021.

Over the course of seven years, the department was able to build the greenhouse through the support of local business donations and industry partners. 

Dennis Nef, dean of Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, also spoke at the event. (Adam Solis/The Collegian)

The greenhouse will allow students and faculty to engage in different student- and industry partner-sponsored projects. Students will have the chance to experience what happens after they begin grafting, an experience absent in prior semesters. 

“The main reason is [that] our students need to learn a certain set of skills when they graduate from the program and one of those skills is how to propagate plants,” Sommer said. “They learn how to graft and they learn how to plant. But there was something missing in between.”

Oro Agri, a company that develops a range of low environmental impact biorational products, donated $100,000 to the project. Oro Agri’s North America Technical Manager Johan Coetzee attended the ceremony. 

“As a student, it’s really amazing to see the industry step up and invest in our future and in our careers and our education. It kind of makes us realize that we are going to get a job out of this,” said Marnelle Salie, a junior majoring in viticulture and president of the viticulture club.

The department wishes to use the greenhouse as a way to demonstrate community involvement and show how potential industry partners can help. 

“Our program can grow through this and because we evolve with the industry…[if] they see something new is going on and if we have not only the greenhouse but other projects as well, people will send their students or people [to] see it,” said Sonet Van Zyl, associate professor of viticulture.  

Gaining the ability to do new industry-funded projects will open up different opportunities for the department in the form of potential for new industry partners joining its efforts once the greenhouse is built. 

“If we have a project like that greenhouse to show that industry involvement can get us there and can produce something that is valuable and appreciated, it makes involvement much easier,” Sommer said. 

Without a heating and cooling system along with the walls being broken, the old hoop house on campus, a low-cost structure used as a greenhouse with a plastic ceiling held by metal hoops, was taken down, and cement slabs were removed to make room for the new greenhouse. 

“Usually in the past, to get these experiences and get the education, we’ve had to go to other companies and experience that,” Salie said. “And to be able to have that here on campus and have immediate indoor research is a really great advancement in all of our educations.” 

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