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A Good Day to Thank a UC Farm Advisor, Researcher

County farm advisors and other members of the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources division are an important link between the state’s farmers and cutting-edge research.

8/25/2020

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For more than a century, the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources (UC ANR) team has provided unbiased science-based information and solutions that people can trust by connecting the power of UC research to the practical needs of growers. UC ANR researchers and farm advisors have contributed vast amounts of knowledge that has allowed the California almond industry to thrive.

Specifically, men and women working within UC ANR’s Cooperative Extension have led or participated in research dealing with soil, nutrient and water management; pest control; orchard spacing and tree pruning; Whole Orchard Recycling; new rootstock and almond varieties; the value of cover crops and so much more. In the case of the almond industry, the primary benefactors of decades of this research have been the growers, with outreach often taking place through UC farm advisors (there is at least one advisor in each California
county).

“Farm advisors play an essential role in California agriculture – leading and collaborating in applied research, making research tangible for growers by providing a link between the UC faculty/campuses and in-orchard trials, and by bringing practical perspectives to ensure that research delivers usable solutions,” said Josette Lewis, Chief Scientific Officer for the Almond Board of California (ABC).

Many critical breakthroughs in almond practices that have led to increased yields – and grower profits – may not have occurred with the UC’s depth of research and involvement. Unfortunately, the state’s funding of these critical advisor positions has been flat for the past two decades, Lewis said. Budgets also have been cut because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why this year, ABC joined forces with the Pistachio and Walnut Research Boards to collectively invest more than $400,000 to create four new research assistant positions that will expand the capacity of the farm advisors in growing regions across the valley. These new jobs are located in the following counties, with most advisors working with growers in more than one county:

  • Tulare County
  • Fresno/Madera/Merced counties
  • Butte/Glenn/Tehama counties
  • Yolo/Solano/Sutter/Colusa/Yuba counties

The openings come at the same time that many experienced farm advisors and researchers, such as Allan Fulton, have retired, which would have created additional gaps in the long-term relationships between UC and growers if not for these new jobs.

In the Central Valley’s almond-growing region, Lewis said farm advisors are involved in at least $1 million of almond-specific research funded by growers – via the Almond Board – each year. But this research isn’t all based in the lab. Farm advisors spend most of their time  getting their boots dirty. They often are in the orchard, working directly with growers and pest control advisors on critical and time-sensitive issues.

“They provide diverse resources to help growers learn about new practices that can improve their operations,” said Lewis, citing regionally targeted newsletters, web-based information, and grower field days and meetings as ways farm advisors connect with growers.

One of her favorite examples of farm advisors sharing their wealth of wisdom is the weekly “Growing the Valley” podcast, hosted by farm advisors Luke Milliron, orchard systems advisor for Butte, Tehama, and Glenn counties, and Phoebe Gordon, orchards systems advisor for Madera and Merced counties. Lewis said the podcast, which regularly covers water, pest management and other key elements specific to among growing, “should be on every almond grower’s smartphone streaming app.”

Some UC employees, like Gordon and Milliron, also participate on ABC workgroups, where they help inform research and other decisions and provide helpful insight to the industry.

“The breadth and depth of agricultural knowledge created by UC ANR… is unparalleled,” wrote Taylor Roschen, a policy advocate for the California Farm Bureau Federation, in the
March 18 edition of Ag Alert. “Local Cooperative Extension staff such as farm advisors and community education specialists serve as translators, sharing the power of UC research with our farms, our families and our communities.

“And in a time when regulators, customers and neighbors ask more of us, it's even more important that we use Cooperative Extension staff as problem-solvers, collaborators and educators.”