Four staff research associates will join the ranks of UC Cooperative Extension scientists in the coming months to support nut crop advisors conducting critical research in walnut, almond and pistachio production.
The California Walnut Board, the Almond Board of California and the California Pistachio Research Board together have provided about $425,000 to cover annual salaries, benefits, travel and equipment for the new UC Cooperative Extension staff. Under the terms of the agreement, the new positions will be funded annually for up to three years, pending available funds and success of the program.
“By supporting these new positions in UC Cooperative Extension, the California Walnut Board, the Almond Board of California and the California Pistachio Research Board show their recognition for the value of applied research conducted by our nut crop advisors,” said UC Agriculture and Natural Resources vice president Glenda Humiston. “We are grateful to these industry organizations for this vote of confidence and the generous funding to generate science-based knowledge to apply on California farms.”
The new research associates will each devote time supporting two advisors with tree nut assignments:
- Allan Fulton and Luke Milliron, serving Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties
- Katherine Jarvis-Shean and Franz Niederholzer, serving Colusa, Sacramento, Solano, Sutter, Yolo counties
- Mae Culumber and Phoebe Gordon, serving Fresno, Madera and Merced counties
- Elizabeth Fichtner and an advisor under recruitment, serving Tulare and Kings counties
The arrangement reflects a change in how UC Cooperative Extension supports the agriculture industries in California with applied research. With less funding from its traditional revenue sources – USDA, the state government and counties – advisors cover more territory than in the past. Over the years, they have also taken on an increasing share of UC's applied research mission serving the state's specialty crops industries.
The new staff research associate positions were crafted to attract highly qualified candidates who will support advisors' applied research efforts. Their primary focus will be on assisting advisors with planning, execution and gathering data on experimental and demonstration field trials.
UCCE advisor emeritus Joe Grant, who now serves as production research director of the California Walnut Board, chaired an industry working group that drafted the plan based on advisors' input about their needs.
“Advisors are competent and creative people with the skills and knowledge to do research. They need the same support that researchers on campus have,” Grant said.
The California Pistachio Research Board previously provided funding for a plant pathology researcher and an integrated pest management advisor at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. In addition, the board supported creation of $1 million endowments for a nut genetics researcher and a tree nut soil science and plant-water relations researcher as part of an initiative co-funded by UC President Janet Napolitano.
“We've been concerned for a long time about UC Cooperative Extension's research capacity and infrastructure issues,” said Bob Klein, manager of the California Pistachio Research Board. “This new initiative will increase efficiency and productivity for farm advisors and also reduce their stress from being overcommitted.”
Josette Lewis, the Almond Board chief scientific officer, said the organization depends on UCCE farm advisors for unbiased, quality information about almond production.
“Advisors are a valuable link between UC campuses and growers, not only in doing applied research that helps growers thrive, but in meeting California's goals of environmental and social sustainability,” Lewis said. “The information they generate is shared with a host of ag industry professionals – pest control advisers, crop consultants and people in the private sector who provide services to growers.”
Commodity industry funding for UC Cooperative Extension reflects the value the nut crop industries leverage from one of the strongest agricultural research and extension systems in the world, Lewis said.
The new program is modeled after a pilot project in Colusa County in which the Almond Board provided funding for Niederholzer to hire an intern to support almond research. A young scientist who held the post from 2015-16 was Milliron. In 2017, UC Cooperative Extension named Milliron a sustainable orchard systems advisor for Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties and he will now supervise one of the new staff research associates.
“We had a chance to keep him in the system and capitalize on what he learned during his internship,” Lewis said.
There are other tree nut and fruit advisors in need of research help, Grant said. For example, there are concentrations of tree fruit and nut acreage and growers in Kern, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
“We positioned these four research associates where we heard the need for help was most critical. We can see adding another position or two in the future if funds are available,” Grant said.