- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
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.
- Author: Diane Nelson
The answer may be developing soon at a 4-acre test orchard south of Fresno, where University of California researchers are planting semi-dwarfing rootstocks as part of a large, integrated experiment on virtually every aspect of peach and nectarine production.
“We're designing ‘ladderless' orchards, which have the potential to cut labor costs by 50 percent or more and improve worker safety,” said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Ted DeJong, a plant physiology professor at UC Davis. DeJong and Kevin Day, a Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Tulare County, are leading the experiment.
Conventional peach and nectarine trees grow about 13 feet tall. Setting up, climbing and moving ladders to prune the trees and harvest fruit consumes about half the workday. Ladders are dangerous, too, which is why peach and nectarine growers pay about 40 percent more for workers' compensation insurance than growers who work with more low-lying commodities, like grapes.
Developed by breeders at UC Davis, the new rootstocks will produce trees that grow about 7 or 8 feet tall and can be pruned and harvested from the ground. With the right orchard management — which Day and DeJong will test at their plots at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, near Fresno — the shorter trees could produce just as much high-quality fruit as their lofty kin.
“Ladderless orchards would be huge for our industry,” said Bill Chandler, who grows several varieties of peaches and nectarines on his 250-acre Chandler Farms in Selma, California. “There are so many costs associated with ladders that many growers are switching over to almonds just to stay in business. It costs me $1,400 an acre to thin our trees.”
Rod Milton, a fourth-generation stone-fruit grower, said he would welcome a ladderless system for the peaches and nectarines he grows in Reedley, California.
“Even with conventional rootstocks, I prune my trees so workers can take two fewer steps on the ladder come harvest time,” he said. “And the savings are huge, even with that. It's important to keep farm work safe. And it's important to keep farming viable, or else we'll be getting all our produce from overseas.”
Shorter trees are just one of the elements of DeJong's and Day's experiment, which explores best practices for keeping peach and nectarine production economically and environmentally sustainable. Funded by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, their model orchard will integrate virtually every UC pomology advancement in the past 30 years.
The team will plant conventional, tall trees in one plot and cultivate them using standard irrigation, fertilization and pruning practices. On three other plots, they will grow shorter trees with new, “best-management” practices such as minimal pruning, using pressure chambers to measure a tree's water needs, and applying compost and nitrogen sprays to minimize nutrient leaching and groundwater contamination. They will compare fruit size and yields, canopy light interception, water and nitrate leaching, and more. Graduate students will have opportunities to get hands-on experience as the next generation of stone-fruit experts.
“We're excited to take our experiments to the next level, to provide growers what they need to make good management decisions,” Day said.
Growers are excited, too.
“If it wasn't for people like Ted DeJong and Kevin Day, I'm not sure there'd be any of us peach and nectarine growers left,” Chandler said. “They work so hard to make farming efficient.”
The team will begin planting in spring 2015 and should have preliminary data by 2016.