California-grown alfalfa seed – a crop valued at nearly $1 billion annually – is shipped around the globe, where farmers use it to grow high-quality hay for dairy cows, horses, beef cattle and other livestock.
“Words cannot express the gratitude the industry has for Shannon,” said JD Allen, manager of the Alfalfa Seed Production Research Board. “Her incredible dedication and commitment to the alfalfa seed industry over the years manifested itself in many ways.”
Mueller, who earned a bachelor's degree in plant science at UC Riverside, worked on alfalfa during her studies at Cornell University, where she completed a master's degree and Ph.D. She was educated about alfalfa seed production by expert farmers producing the crop in Fresno County.
Information is widely available to guide production decisions for alfalfa hay, but seed production is more complicated. There is a delicate balance to achieve with irrigation, pest management and pollination. All factors influence each other.
“If you don't align the variables, there are real consequences in terms of yield and seed quality,” Mueller said.
Having learned the complexity of seed production, Mueller conducted research to find solutions to challenges farmers faced. She studied alfalfa seed pollination with leafcutter bees, dodder control, optimizing plant spacing, gene flow and many other topics.
“Shannon Mueller was a strong advocate for California alfalfa seed producers," said Jonathan Reich, global alfalfa breeding lead at Alforex Seeds. "Throughout her career she engaged with alfalfa seed industry stakeholders to identify research priorities aimed to deliver solutions to problems which had the potential to improve productivity, profitability, and sustainability.”
Mueller's work also focused on dry bean, alfalfa hay and honeybee management.
Mueller said she valued the opportunity to choose her own academic path as a UC Cooperative Extension advisor and work on issues that were of importance to the industry.
“I was able to address critical matters, and make changes over time,” Mueller said. “What I started out doing bore little resemblance to my more recent research.”
In 2011, Mueller was named co-director of UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno and Madera counties with viticulture farm advisor Steven Vasquez. Two years later, after his departure, she took the reins herself.
“I've been lucky,” Mueller said. “We have very intelligent, hardworking academics, program professionals, nutrition educators and staff in Fresno and Madera. I've had the opportunity to learn about our nutrition, 4-H and Master Gardener programs. Along with our agriculture and natural resources programs, I see the tremendous value they bring to Cooperative Extension.”
The University of California has honored Mueller with emeritus status. She plans to focus on expanding the Davis-based California Master Beekeeper program to additional sites in San Diego and Fresno. The new program has received a start-up grant from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and will begin training volunteers to disseminate science-based information about the importance of honey bees, preserving bee health and responsible beekeeping.
Mueller also plans to travel during retirement, beginning with a month-long trip to Ireland this summer. Upon her return, she plans to take up quilting, get back into painting, and spend more time in the Sierra Nevada.