Agriculture industry leaders have joined together to create the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, designed to tackle on-the-ground industry needs.

More than two dozen companies from the Yuma region of Arizona and Salinas, Calif., have committed more than $1.1 million of three years to fund the center.

Researchers at the center will work together with those from Yuma County Cooperative Extension and from the University of Arizona's Yuma Experiment Station.

A search for center director has already begun, according to a news release.

He or she will work with an advisory council to identify the most pressing issues on which to focus research.

Among those is finding strategies to control downy mildew in spinach.

Another priority is finding ways to control a pest that carries a citrus-damaging virus as well as how to help growers deal with the ongoing drought.

Chairing the advisory committee is investor Robby Barkley, president and chief executive officer of Yuma-based Barkley Ag Enterprises, which grows leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, grains, melons and cotton.

The goal of the center is to help growers become more profitable.

Other funding from the center is expected to come from philanthropy, competitive grants and industry contracts.