Day has deep roots in Tulare County. He was raised on a Dinuba farm established by his grandfather in 1906, where he farms peaches and nectarines to this day.
With bachelor's and master's degrees from Fresno State, Day launched his UC career in 1985 at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier as a staff research associate, working with UC Davis plant physiologist Ted DeJong. With DeJong, Day participated in the development of the “Kearney Perpendicular V,” a high-density tree training and pruning system that brings peach and nectarine orchards into full production at an earlier age.
Determined to climb the career ladder under his own terms, Day waited for the ideal position to be offered by UC in his beloved home county of Tulare. In July 1991, Day joined the Tulare County academic staff as pomology advisor with years of hands-on research experience and established relationships with Kearney- and UC campus-based specialists.
Day is highly regarded as an expert in stone fruit cultural practices. He conducted research to manage light exposure within tree canopies, pruning and training systems, irrigation, fertilization and pest management. He wrote the first published research on summer pruning of stone fruit trees in California and introduced a revolutionary tree fruit orchard establishment practice he termed “benign neglect.”
“Benign neglect changed the way farmers looked at pruning trees in new orchards,” Day said. “We don't prune fruit trees at all in the first year or two. This saves the cost of labor, and brings the tree into production years before new orchards that have been trained and pruned conventionally.”
In addition to many stone fruit growers, almond, walnut and pistachio farmers around the world have been able to cut costs and increase profitability by following this production practice.
In all, Day has written more than 500 papers on tree fruit management, including peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, magazine articles in popular publications and research reports. His specialty is in presenting practical information to farmers in accessible language, which helped him earn notoriety in national and international stone fruit circles. In 2012, he became the first county advisor or agent to be honored with the National Peach Council's Carroll R. Miller Award, which recognizes “noteworthy research relating to improved marketing and utilization of peaches.”
Day said he greatly appreciated the flexibility his career has afforded, being able to work with growers to respond to problems as they arose and adjust his focus when circumstances changed.
“I could work on a new disease that popped up. I could study developing insect issues,” Day said. “When people were planting apples in the (19)80s and 90s, I was able to study pruning, training, light management and fruit quality in apples.”
In 2015, Day was promoted to director of Cooperative Extension in Tulare and Kings counties. In this role, he has helped shape academic staffing decisions for the local area and mentor newly hired advisors.
Day has been honored with emeritus status by the University of California. In addition to tending his own tree crop farm in Dinuba, he plans to continue work on a sweeping project at Kearney that is being managed as the “orchard of the future.”
With dwarfing rootstocks and pruning advances developed over decades, the orchard has been designed to minimize the need to use ladders for pruning, thinning and harvesting. Keeping farm workers on the ground is safer, and reduces labor costs by 40 to 60 percent, Day said.
In retirement, Day said he also is looking forward to spending more time reading, pursuing his musical interests, fly fishing, hunting and playing with his six rescue dachshunds, a diminutive dog breed that captured his heart 30 years ago.