If there were a hall of fame for farm advisors, Joe Grant would be nominated by Brent Barton, a fourth-generation grower. Grant, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor who is known for his research on walnuts, cherries, apples, olives and other tree crops, retired July 1 after serving 30 years with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, primarily in San Joaquin County.
“Joe Grant would be an inductee to a hall of fame because he is hardworking, persistent and takes a scientific approach to his work, but it's grounded in practicality, which farmers demand,” said Barton, who grows walnuts and oil olives.
The grower credits Grant with making pheromone mating-disruption an option for codling moth control, grower acceptance of a pressure bomb for optimal irrigation timing, rootstock research and use of cover crops in walnuts.
“Joe has been important to the statewide walnut industry,” Barton said.
Because the codling moth biocontrol method reduced pesticide use, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation honored Grant and the Walnut Production Research Advisory Council Entomology Working Group with its IPM Innovator Award in 2013.
Grant is not only a trusted scientist, he's fun to work with, according to Barton, who explained that Grant puts on a gruff demeanor and grumbles, “What did you do that for?” in deadpan humor. “He rarely breaks, but sometimes you'll catch a twinkle in his eye.”
With the exception of 17 months in the 1980s when Grant took a temporary post in Madera County, he has devoted his entire career to San Joaquin County. In 1983, he began as a postgraduate researcher in pomology. After a year, he became a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor intern, then served as acting UC Cooperative Extension pomology advisor in Madera County from November 1985 until March 1987. In April 1987, Grant accepted the job that he would hold for the next 29 years.
“I worked hard throughout my career to build and conduct a program that advanced knowledge, addressed the changing needs of my clientele, and provided service back to the University, ANR and the public,” said Grant, who earned master's degrees in pomology and plant protection and pest management at UC Davis.
In 1990, Grant created San Joaquin WEATHERNET, a network of automated weather stations in the principal tree and vine producing regions of San Joaquin County, and oversaw the operations.
Over the years, Grant conducted several walnut rootstock trials aimed at managing walnut blackline, Phytophthora root rot, crown rot and root lesion nematode, the principal causes of orchard decline in California orchards.
Improved rootstocks are becoming the foundation for more productive and sustainable orchards of the future, he said.
The UCCE advisor in California's leading cherry-producing county, he also studied rootstocks to plant in cherry orchards affected by Phytophthora and cherry stem pitting. Grant helped develop techniques for managing cherry buckskin disease, which once threatened the northern San Joaquin Valley's cherry industry. He also collaborated with researchers in other states to evaluate cherry rootstocks for shorter trees and tree-training systems for intensive “pedestrian” orchards, which workers on the ground can prune and harvest, and mechanically harvestable orchards.
To synchronize bloom, advance fruit maturity and harvest date, the UCCE advisor collaborated on development of treatments for cherries that are used in nearly all southern San Joaquin Valley cherry orchards and half of northern San Joaquin Valley orchards.
In apples, Grant developed chemical thinning guidelines for Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala and Pink Lady apples, which saves growers an estimated $3 million annually.
Grant also identified Gala apple strains adapted to warm San Joaquin Valley growing conditions. These have become the strains of choice for Gala apple growers.
In 2005, Grant was appointed to the California Walnut Board Production Research Advisory Council, charged with setting long-term plans for the walnut board's $1.6 million walnut research program. He served as chair of the select group of researchers, advisors and walnut industry representatives from 2008 to 2016. He was also UC's research liaison to the cherry industry from 2004 to 2016 and to the California Apple Commission from 2008 to 2012.
Other organizations and projects Grant has participated in include the Mid-Valley Apple Association, California Cherry Growers and Industries Foundation and the California Alliance with Family Farmers.
Grant has shared his expertise in tree crops as an invited speaker at conferences in Uzbekistan, China, Iraq, Chile, Australia and the Republic of Moldova.
In retirement, he will remain active in agriculture. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has given Grant emeritus status and he has accepted a half-time position as research director for the California Walnut Board. For pleasure, he says, “I plan otherwise to spend more time getting to know my six grandchildren, doing a little hiking and biking, and learning to play a banjo that has been stored under the bed for the past 10 years or so.”