Current Research Projects

Strawberries in blue paper pint containers arranged for sale

Differential Characterization of Air Pollutant Emissions and Associated Toxicity from Common Agricultural Practices in the San Joaquin Valley

PIs: Kent Pinkerton, PhD and Keith Bein, PhD, UC Davis

This project aims to improve farmworker health with a focus on air quality. Particulate matter emissions related to agricultural practices differ in physical and chemical composition, resulting in differential toxicological responses among farmworkers, including by gender. 

This study will collect particulate matter in California’s San Joaquin Valley at three sites with different labor intensive crops. It will also assess the toxicology of particulate matter and educate farmers, farmworkers, advocacy and industrial groups and regulatory agencies on differential toxicology of common agricultural practices.

The project’s results will be used to make recommendations specific to certain agricultural practices, based on the differential assessment of pollutant emissions and their associated toxicity. 


Reducing Toxin Exposure for Workers in Western Agriculture: Development of Sustainable Alternatives to Soil Fumigation

PI: Christopher Simmons, PhD, UC Davis

Biosolarization is a new technique that combines organic matter amendments and solarization to eliminate pests in the soil that can cause significant damage to crops. Conventional soil fumigants have been identified as being toxic and/or carcinogenic. The overall objective of this project is to test biosolarization efficacy and safety as an alternative to conventional fumigation.

This project will test whether biosolarization is effective in controlling major agricultural pests and if it can substitute for or be used in combination with minimal soil fumigation for pest management. Additionally, it will characterize the volatile compounds emitted from the soil during biosolarization and compare the exposure risk to that from conventional fumigation.

Project results will provide growers with information on the safety and health benefits of biosolarization as a fumigant alternative and how to adopt biosolarization as an alternative to soil fumigation.


Ergonomic and Biomechanical Evaluation of Mechanical and Robotic Strawberry Harvest-Aids

PI: Fadi Fathallah, PhD, UC Davis

Strawberry harvesting is a labor-intensive task that can result in workers’ suffering from musculoskeletal disorders, especially low back disorders (LBDO). The strawberry industry is in need of a means to control LBDs among strawberry workers, while maintaining acceptable productivity levels.  This project evaluates the ergonomics, biomechanics, and productivity of using mechanical and robotic strawberry harvest-aids.

Project results will provide engineers and strawberry growers with information on the optimal balance between productivity and workers’ health and guidelines for speed settings of large, multi-person harvest-aid machines and rest breaks for crews, and algorithms that implement ergonomically sound operation for single-person programmable machines.

See the newest article in "Resource" A Publication of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers highlighting the work of Dr. Fathallah and Victor Duraj on Robotic Strawberry Harvest Aids.



Heat Illness Prevention in Farmworkers: Translation of Economic, Socio-cultural, and Physiological Factors into Effective Interventions

PI: Marc Schenker, MD, MPH, UC Davis

Despite major campaigns to reduce heat related illness (HRI) in agricultural workers, deaths and illnesses still occur at higher rates than in other industries where workers exposed to hot environments. This project engages agricultural stakeholders from farm organizations and labor in a collaborative effort to understand the complexities of HRI and review workable solutions that the whole community can support.

The project provides farm employers with information on the economical impact of HRI on human and production costs, thereby potentially increasing industry support of HRI prevention programs. The project also includes the developing a mobile phone application on HRI prevention for farm supervisors and farmworkers by sending heat alerts and reminders of symptoms of heat illness. 


Emerging Issue: Sexual Harassment of Hispanic Women Farmworkers in the Agricultural Workplace

PI: Stephen McCurdy, MD, MPH, UC Davis

This project will evaluate whether Hispanic women farmworkers born outside the US are at increased workplace sexual harassment compared to those who are US born. The project's goal is to develop interventions for employers and employees - women and men - for preventing sexual harassment in the agricultural workplace. The project will assess the scope and character of sexual harassment among women Hispanic farmworkers in the context of demographic and workplace characteristics and develop educational materials to help prevent sexual harassment in the agricultural workplace.