UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Dahlberg, also the director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center (KARE) in Parlier, invoked his 35 years of sorghum expertise to increasing interest in growing the crop in California and to better understanding plants' ability to tolerate drought. Dahlberg retires Jan. 8.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the early 1980s, Dahlberg was intrigued by sorghum, a staple food being cultivated by the country's vast population of subsistence farmers.
“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “Nigerien farmers relied solely on rain for their sorghum and millet crops.”
Upon returning to the U.S., he earned a master's degree at the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. at Texas A&M, where his research focused on sorghum. He worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Puerto Rico for 7 years and then spent the next 10 years as research director with the National Sorghum Producers in Lubbock, Texas.
When Dahlberg took the helm of the 330-acre UC agricultural research center in 2010, he and colleagues at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center and at UC Davis began conducting sorghum forage variety trials. Sorghum wasn't new to California. In the past, it had mainly been used for animal feed. But Dahlberg believed the crop's adaptability – excellent for forage, biofuels and gluten-free human food – offered the grain a rosy future in the Golden State.
"With our research, we have provided California farmers who are thinking about growing sorghum access to locally generated, research-based information to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.
In 2015, Dahlberg and UC Berkeley specialist Peggy Lemaux launched a sweeping drought research project at KARE. The five-year study, funded with a $12.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, researched the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum and how soil microbial communities interacted with sorghum roots to battle drought stress.
A journal article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018 presented the first detailed look at the role of drought in restructuring the root microbiome. The plant switches some genes on and some genes off when it detects water scarcity and access to water.
“That has implications for feeding the world, particularly considering the changing climate and weather patterns,” Dahlberg said.
In recent years, Dahlberg helped reestablish tea research at Kearney, initiated nearly 60 years ago in a study funded by Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. At the time, Lipton was seeking to grow tea for the instant tea market. When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney.
Those shrubs became the basis for a new tea research trial planted at Kearney in 2017 with UC Davis professor Jackie Gervay Hague to determine whether drought stress impacts the production of phenolics and tannins in the tea.
“We know we can grow good tea here and we can grow high tonnage,” Dahlberg said. “We want to determine if we can do that on a consistent basis and whether we can improve tea quality through irrigation management.”
In retirement, Dahlberg plans to relocate to Lake Ann, Mich., to be close to family. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali will serve as interim director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Transitioning to Retirement workshops are offered by UC Davis for employees considering retirement within 5 years.
The life changes that accompany retirement can be unexpectedly challenging and these virtual, Zoom workshops will help employees prepare.
Topics & dates
- Staff sessions: 9 a.m. – noon
- Faculty/physician/academic sessions: 1 – 4 p.m.
- Introduction and UC Retirement Plan — Friday, Jan. 15
- Retiree health benefits and human resources considerations — Friday, Jan. 22
- Financial planning in retirement and Social Security — Friday, Jan. 29
- Work and lifestyle transitions — Friday, Feb. 5
Early registration is advised
When you register, please double check to ensure you are signing up for the appropriate session.
- Register for Transitioning to Retirement for Staff
- Register for Transitioning to Retirement for Academics/Faculty
More information and FAQs
- Supervisors will not be automatically notified when an employee registers for these workshops.
- It is recommended that participants register for the entire four-week series, however each session is available for individual registration.
- For those who cannot attend the workshops, or for those who are more than five years from retirement, online presentations and other resources are available on the Center's retirement planning webpage at https://retireecenter.ucdavis.edu/planning.
- Contact the Retiree Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 752-5182.
Wilen earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture at the University of Maryland, a master's degree in horticulture at University of Arizona and a doctoral degree at UC Riverside. Following graduation, Wilen worked a year at UC Riverside as a post-doctoral fellow.
In 1995, Wilen was hired by UC ANR to conduct applied research in the turf, ornamental horticulture and nursery industries to develop and promote the use of integrated pest management in San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange counties. She shared her results and information generated by scientists across the university with growers and pest control advisers to reduce the use of toxic pesticides, cut the cost of pest control and use environmentally sound methods in production.
Over the years, Wilen was frequently tapped to take on leadership roles while maintaining her academic program. She served as acting and interim director of the Statewide UC IPM Program, program leader of UCCE's Endemic and Invasive Pests and Diseases Strategic Initiative, and as county director in San Diego County. Wilen also had opportunities to take sabbatical and study leaves to improve her Spanish-speaking skills, learn about international participatory extension methodology and receive training on research methods to study snails and slugs.
“I love working with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources,” Wilen said. “The positions I held matched well with my professional and personal style. I always felt that I was responsible for choosing my destination and the journey to get there, whether that was my career or my research and extension programs.”
Wilen said she also valued the relationships she developed over the years in her job.
“I met and became friends with people in UC that I would never have been so lucky to know without the opportunities afforded me by serving on diverse committees,” Wilen said. “If I could give one piece of advice to early career people, it would be not to look at these requests as ‘but I'm so busy, I can't do it,' but rather, ‘this will expand my network and my worth to UC and the communities we serve and pay off in the long run.'”
Wilen has been awarded the honor of emeritus status, which will continue her academic relationship with UCCE even after her stint in the director post is complete.
“I have a couple of grants I'm continuing to work on,” she said.
She also has plans to do things that she didn't have time for while working full time.
“Plans for my free time include entering sweepstakes, organizing electronics cables, continuing to paddle with my outrigger canoe club, exploring the outdoors, travel, volunteering and enjoying time with my partner and the rest of my family,” she said.
After earning a bachelor's degree in botany at Humboldt State and a master's degree in plant, soil and water science at the University of Nevada Reno, McGourty worked as a Cooperative Extension urban horticulturist in Las Vegas. Later he was a lecturer in the Environmental Horticulture Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and managed his family's walnut farm in nearby Paso Robles part time.
When McGourty was named a UCCE farm advisor, UC was beginning to endorse a systems approach to sustainable farming.
“I was certainly one of the people who took it to heart,” McGourty said.
In the late 1980s, most grape growers in Mendocino County disked the soil in vineyard rows every year to reduce weeds. Insecticides were applied that kept workers out of the vineyard for three weeks.
“Vineyards seemed pretty barren and not friendly to nature. We had a lot of soil erosion and water quality issues,” McGourty said. “My colleagues and I tried to find solutions that would boost soil organic matter and encourage beneficial insects and mites. One of our landmark research projects was coming up with good cover cropping systems for wine grapes.”
Those practices are widely implemented today, and across California interest in soil health and sustainability continue to grow. McGourty was assigned to also serve Lake County, where wine growers there adopted a strong interest in sustainable wine-growing practices.
“We have the Healthy Soils Program, in which CDFA is paying farmers to grow cover crops and use compost to sequester carbon in the soil. This came out of our research on alternative farming systems conducted in our region,” McGourty said.
Another research interest has been evaluating wine grapes from the Mediterranean region adapted to warm climates.
“After many years of working with ornamental plants, I realized that the plants that do best in California are all from a Mediterranean climate region,” McGourty said. “It made sense for me to look for wine grape varieties that like that climate, too.”
His research included trips to the Mediterranean area where he visited the wine grape varieties he had evaluated in their native habitat. He was invited to speak at foreign universities and conferences in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Australia on projects focused on alternative wine grape farming systems, including sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming in California.
McGourty has been honored by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources with emeritus status. As an emeritus advisor, McGourty plans to work on a national online database of wine grape varieties adapted to warm climates. In addition, he will be involved in a Lake County research project conducting a detailed evaluation of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on multiple clones and rootstocks.
Retirement promises to be busy for McGourty. In March, he received the most votes in the primary election for a position on the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. He will be immersed in campaigning until the runoff election in November.
Even if the election doesn't go his way, McGourty won't be idle. He manages a 10-acre wine grape and walnut farm on the Russian River, where he farms with the sustainable practices he taught local farmers during his career.
“I am so lucky! I have had one of the best jobs in UC and live in one of the prettiest places in California,” he said.
With a bachelor's degree in home economics from California State University, Sacramento, Martin took a part-time position in 1993 as an educator with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education program in San Joaquin County. A year later, she was elevated to full time to also work on the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, which is now called CalFresh Healthy Living, UC. Both programs are federally funded initiatives administered by UC Cooperative Extension to help low-income families use their food budgets to put healthful meals on the table.
In 2001, Martin completed a master's degree in community nutrition and was named to the academic position she held in San Joaquin County the next 19 years.
“I designed my program to promote individual, community, system and environmental changes to positively impact the health behaviors of low-income youth and families,” Martin said. “Working with my colleagues across the state, we sought to understand and address obesity and chronic disease prevention, health disparities, food safety and food insecurity.”
Martin studied the health behaviors of low-income populations to develop curricula, delivery methods, evaluation tools and other materials that could be incorporated into the education programs. Over the years, Martin co-authored 26 peer-reviewed publications, 62 abstracts or posters, and 52 non-peer reviewed publications or reports.
Despite these many achievements, Martin said she most valued the interactions with current and past co-workers and colleagues in San Joaquin County and across the state, the people she describes as her “work family.”
“I think the experience has been so positive because we come together around projects and programs that make a difference in the health and welfare of the families we serve,” Martin said. “My years with Cooperative Extension have created strong bonds within UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and within my community that I foresee will last a lifetime.”