New UC ANR hires bring expertise in technology, crops, nutrition

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources continued broadening its service to Californians by hiring more scientists in counties across the state this winter. With increased funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature, UC ANR recently hired UC Cooperative Extension advisors, specialists and academic coordinators who bring expertise in technology, grapes, sustainable food systems, small-scale farms, nutrition, specialty crops, soils, irrigation, woody biomass and bioenergy.

UC Cooperative Extension advisors work directly with community members to apply research-based information to improve the lives and livelihoods of Californians.

To see a list of UC Cooperative Extension advisors who have joined in the past few months, visit The most recently hired advisors are introduced below.

Singh named UCCE tech and innovations advisor for small farms

Manpreet Singh began working on Feb. 15 as a UC Cooperative Extension technology and innovation advisor for small farms and serves Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Madera and Merced counties.

Singh is responsible for testing and evaluating new technologies that can resolve challenges that small farms experience. With a variety of technological advancements becoming available, Singh will help small farms determine the feasibility and economic impact of their options. His role will not only prioritize crop production efficiency, but post-harvest and marketing of crops as well. 

A few areas of concern that are top of mind for Singh are weed control and water efficiency. “Weed control is a major part of agricultural operations and a logistical nightmare,” he said. “Since I did a lot of research in irrigation, I also want to help small farms adapt to smart irrigation controllers.”

Singh earned a master's in horticulture, specializing in vegetable science, and a bachelor's in agriculture from Punjab Agricultural University in India. During his master's program, Singh focused his research on hybrid breeding of melons.

After completing his master's, he moved to the United States to join the Ph.D. program at Texas Tech University where he worked as a teaching assistant for Principles of Horticulture labs. His Ph.D. research focused on limited irrigation strategies for vegetable production in West Texas.

“In the past, I did some extension work, but I never had a chance to work directly with the farmers. I'm ready to do some applied research that involves the farmers. So, this job provides me a great opportunity to do those things,” said Singh. 

Singh is based out of the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center and can be reached at

Ott to advise growers in Tehama, Butte, Shasta and Glenn counties 

Since the beginning of this year, Jaime Ott has been settling in at UC ANR as the new UC Cooperative Extension orchard systems advisor for Tehama, Butte, Shasta and Glenn counties.

“Officially I am covering walnut, prune, almond and olive in these counties,” Ott said. “But since there is only one other advisor in my office, Josh Davy, the joke is that he covers anything with feathers, fins and fur – and I cover anything with chlorophyll.”

Ott said she hopes to help California agriculture become more robust, profitable and sustainable – economically, socially and environmentally – far into the future.

“I want to help serve as a bridge, communicating the needs of the growers in my area to the researchers on UC campuses to make sure that we are doing the right research, research that will help to move our production systems forward,” she explained.

After growing up in El Dorado County, Ott earned her undergraduate degree in biological sciences from UC Davis. She received her M.S in marine science from the College of William & Mary, and then joined the Peace Corps, through which she worked with farmers in Zambia to raise tilapia.

Since returning from Africa in 2014, Ott has been working in the lab of Greg Browne at UC Davis and pursuing her Ph.D. in the Department of Plant Pathology. Her research has focused on which Phytophthora species are affecting almonds and walnuts in California and the ways the pathogen is introduced into orchards.

“My experience in Zambia really highlighted how powerful information can be, and I want to make sure that California growers have access to all of the practical information that UC and UC Cooperative Extension scientists are generating,” she said.

Ott, based at the UCCE office in Red Bluff, can be reached at and (530) 527-3101. 

Justin Tanner joins UCCE as grape advisor 

Justin Tanner joined UC ANR on Jan. 3 as a UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor for San Joaquin, Stanislaus and southern Sacramento counties.

Tanner is responsible for implementing an innovative extension education and applied research program to address high-priority production issues in wine and table grapes including pest, disease, and water management.

Specifically, he supports entry-level growers who are seeking basic viticulture and pest management practices, while providing experienced growers information on new technologies to remain competitive. All producers face mounting pressures from increased regulatory and environmental compliance requirements as well as cost-competitiveness in an increasingly global marketplace.

Tanner attended Colorado State University and earned a Ph.D. in horticulture, focusing on germplasm conservation of temperate fruit trees. He also attended Texas A&M University, where he earned a master's degree in horticulture for citrus virology, as well as a bachelor's degree in agriculture for environmental soil science.

As a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, Tanner designed and implemented research projects at Oakville Station in Napa County. During his time there, he investigated various factors that affect wine grape production such as examining the effects of cluster thinning and irrigation practices on grapevine red blotch virus-positive vines to evaluate the efficacy of cultural management practices on mitigating virus impact on grape quality and yield. He also conducted trials to identify rootstock and scion combinations as well as trellis systems to optimize production under warming climate conditions.

To understand the needs and challenges of the growers he supports, Tanner is working closely with growers, industry leaders, the Lodi Winegrape Commission and pest control advisers in the region.

“I see the spread of grapevine leafroll-associated virus by the vine mealybug as a huge challenge for grape growers within San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties,” said Tanner. “As vine mealybug reproduces prolifically and spreads easily, controlling this invasive pest will require an integrated pest management approach with a concerted and sustained effort at the community level.”

Tanner is excited to contribute to the success of grape growers and the wine industry using a science-based approach. “The growers and pest control advisers I have already had the opportunity to meet with have been kind, intelligent and hardworking people who I enjoy working with,” he said.

Tanner is based out of the UCCE San Joaquin County office in Stockton and can be reached at

Kayad named ag engineering advisor at Intermountain REC 

Ahmed Kayad joined UC Cooperative Extension in January as an agricultural engineering advisor at the Intermountain Research and Extension Center.

He will address regional needs in relation to integrating and adapting new technologies related to mechanization, automation and precision agriculture into intermountain cropping systems. Kayad is eager to investigate differences in crop growth and development within agricultural fields in Modoc and Siskiyou counties using satellite, drone and ground sensors.

To help farmers make informed management decisions across their farming operations, one of Kayad's first objectives is to map fields for spatial and temporal yield variability to better understand management practices that increase crop production. 

Prior to joining IREC, Kayad was a postdoctoral researcher at UC Riverside. His recent research activities include monitoring crop yield through ground and remote sensing for alfalfa and corn, using drone images for weed detection in vegetable crops, and investigating the impact of digital solutions in agriculture. He worked as a service engineer at farm equipment manufacturer CLAAS in Egypt, specializing in hay balers and forage/grain combine harvesters. In 2020, he was a visiting doctoral researcher at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. 

Kayad earned a Ph.D in digital agriculture from the University of Padua, Italy, studying corn yield mapping through ground and remote sensing techniques. He earned a bachelor's and master's in agricultural engineering from Alexandria University, Egypt and King Saud University, Saudi Arabia respectively.

Kayad is located at the Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake and can be reached at and (530) 667-5117.

Eddie Tanner named UCCE specialty crops and horticulture advisor 

Eddie Tanner joined UC Cooperative Extension on Jan. 3 as a specialty crops and horticulture advisor serving Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

 He will be supporting the region's vegetable, fruit, flower and nursery growers with research-based technical assistance, collaborating with community partners to increase access to locally produced foods, and supporting the UC Master Gardeners. 

Tanner has been involved in agriculture in Humboldt County for over 20 years as a farmer and a farm and garden educator. He holds a B.S. in wildland soil science from Humboldt State University and an M.S. in agriculture from Washington State University.

Tanner is based in the Eureka office and can be reached at

Gilani named biomass and bioenergy advisor 

Haris Gilani joined UC ANR on Jan. 9 as a UCCE biomass and bioenergy advisor serving Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

In this role, Gilani investigates opportunities and strategies for increasing the use of woody biomass through development of biofuels and bioenergy among other products. He will also work to enhance biomass management and natural resource manufacturing with strategies for reducing community risk from wildfires.

“I think the overarching aim is to develop sustainable markets for wood and biomass to support forest management and restoration activities across all forest lands in California,” Gilani said. “This will help achieve the state's climate change goals as well as promote long-term economic development and community resilience.”

Another important aspect of his role is communicating research-based information on efficacy of converting woody biomass into fuels for transportation and other products that are consistent with the state's Forest Carbon Plan, to the public, industry, government and relevant stakeholders.

Gilani earned a Ph.D. in forest products marketing from the University of British Columbia, Canada, a Master of Business Administration from Technical University Freiberg in Germany, and a bachelor's in mathematics and physics from the University of the Punjab in Pakistan.

Before joining UC ANR, Gilani worked at his alma matter in Canada as a postdoctoral fellow focusing on economic and market analysis of value-added wood products in BC. He also worked as an assistant project scientist at UC Berkeley researching biofuels, before he joined the State University of New York in Syracuse, where he developed a wood-based bioeconomy roadmap for NY State.

Gilani is based out of the UCCE Riverside County office in Palm Desert and can be reached at

Nguyen named UCCE nutrition specialist 

Cassandra Nguyen joined UC Cooperative Extension on Jan. 3 as a specialist in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition.

Nguyen's long-term goal is to bridge the gap between "what we know" and "what we do" about food insecurity. Her research encompasses three areas of interest: revitalization of local food systems to increase diet quality and well-being among Native communities and families; integration of food insecurity screening into healthcare services to better address chronic diseases; and advancements in the charitable food system to increase equity and empowerment of clients.

Nguyen recently published a journal article on food bank strategies to promote nutrition and health.

She earned a Ph.D. in human nutrition and M.S. in nutritional sciences, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in dietetics from Central Washington University.

Nguyen is located in Meyer Hall at UC Davis and can be reached at (530) 752-3817 and

Engelskirchen shifts to new sustainable agriculture role 

Gwenaël Engelskirchen began as the new sustainable food and farming coordinator with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program in January.

After serving as SAREP's sustainable supply chain coordinator since 2015, Engelskirchen said she is looking forward to her new role as an academic coordinator to support farmers and ranchers in adopting more sustainable agricultural practices while strengthening regional food systems. 

“Leveraging SAREP's emphasis and expertise on sustainability from ‘farm to fork,' I hope to bring research and resources to meet the needs of diverse clientele groups across California,” Engelskirchen said.

Key audiences and partners include agricultural producers, regional distributors, food hubs, institutional and retail buyers, community organizations and agencies that address food, farming and natural resource issues. In her previous capacity with SAREP, Engelskirchen launched the California Food Hub Network, a statewide learning network for regional, values-based food distributors.

In addition to earning bachelor's degrees in international development and women's studies from UCLA and a master's in community development from UC Davis, Engelskirchen has worked on and managed organic farms, both urban and rural. She has designed and organized workshops, field walks, webinars and educational events and delivered direct technical assistance for farmers in California and Arizona.

“I am continually drawing inspiration from my colleagues, collaborators, community and the land,” she said. 

Engelskirchen is based at the UC ANR building in Davis and can be reached at and (530) 792-8253. 

Baddorf joins SAREP as sustainable supply chain coordinator 

Alicia Baddorf joined the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program on Feb. 1 as the new sustainable supply chain coordinator. She succeeds Gwenaël Engelskirchen, who is now SAREP's sustainable food and farming coordinator. 

Baddorf brings over 10 years of sustainable agriculture and regional food systems experience to UC SAREP. Her research broadly aims to support farmers and ranchers in adopting more sustainable agricultural practices and assist communities in building equitable and healthy regional food systems. 

She has experience with farms and food hubs, including educational program development, farming and the management of sales, community-supported agriculture programs, and marketing. With the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, she advised small-scale farmers finding right-fit technologies to expand their marketing opportunities.

She holds dual bachelor's degrees in sociology and French studies from the University of Delaware and is currently pursuing a master's degree in community development from UC Davis. 

Baddorf is based at the UC ANR building in Davis and can be reached at

Oker named soils and irrigation advisor for Kern County 

Tobias Oker joined UC Cooperative Extension on Jan. 3 as a soils and irrigation advisor for Kern County.

Prior to joining UC ANR, Oker was an irrigation research engineer at the University of Georgia, Tifton campus for close to four years. At UGA, he collaborated with the state Natural Resources Conservation Service to update the Georgia Irrigation Guide. He also worked on a research project to develop crop water-use curves for apples, peaches, pecans and a grapefruit variety called muscadine. 

Oker earned a Ph.D. from Kansas State University, where his doctoral research focused on Mobile Drip Irrigation, a novel technology with a demonstrated potential to improve irrigation efficiency in center pivot systems, the main irrigation method used in the Midwest.

Before attending K-State, he worked in Uganda at the National Agricultural Research Organization as a water management research and extension scientist for three years, and before that as a research assistant for two years.

He earned a M.S. in water science and engineering from IHE Delft, Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands and a B.S. in agricultural engineering from Makerere University in Uganda.

Oker is based at the UCCE office in Bakersfield and can be reached at and (661) 868-6218 and on Twitter @TobiasOker.

Andrews named specialty crops advisor 

Ellie Andrews joined UC Cooperative Extension on Jan. 3 as a specialty crops advisor for Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.

Andrews enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of applied agricultural sciences and is excited to assist specialty crop growers with nutrient management, irrigation and integrated pest management. She can provide support for growers who want to implement practices that build soil health, such as organic matter amendment application, cover cropping, and strategies for reducing soil disturbance. She also can assist with variety selection, diversification, crop planning, and climate adaptation strategies.

Originally from Ohio, Andrews earned her bachelor's degree in field ecology with a focus on plant biology at Ohio University. During and after college, she worked on several small-scale certified organic farms where she gained experience with specialty crops such as mixed vegetables, greens, cut flowers, herbs, microgreens and culinary mushrooms. 

While working directly with growers for Ohio State Extension, Andrews earned a master's degree in plant health management from The Ohio State University, where the applied interdisciplinary degree program taught her about integrated pest management, plant pathology and soil fertility.

She earned a Ph.D. in horticulture and agronomy at UC Davis. Her doctoral research focused on using organic matter amendments to improve nutrient cycling, soil-plant water dynamics, and soil microbial communities.

Andrews is based at the UCCE office in Santa Rosa and can be reached at

Benítez joins BFI, UC ANR to study food value chains 

Francisco Benítez Altuna joined UC ANR and Berkeley Food Institute on Jan. 3 as a project scientist. 

Benítez will work with a stakeholder advisory group and collaborate on research with BFI-associated faculty on agroecological research and extension programs.

During his academic career, Benítez has developed a strong multidisciplinary background in food value chains. He is interested in understanding the challenges farmers face and the complex interactions between socioeconomic and context characteristics that shape the transition towards sustainable food value chains.

Benítez earned a Ph.D. at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands and master's degrees in agribusiness and rural development from the Georg-August University of Göttingen in Germany and the University of Talca in Chile. He earned an engineering degree in agro-industry from the National Polytechnic School in his hometown of Quito, Ecuador. 

Benítez is based at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier and can be reached at

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