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.
The UCCE citrus and pistachio crops advisor in Kern County, Craig Kallsen, is the UC Cooperative Extension Presidential Chair for Tree Nut Genetics, and UCCE integrated orchard management specialist Bruce Lampinen, based at UC Davis, is the UC Cooperative Extension Presidential Chair for Tree Nut Soil Science and Plant Water Relations. The endowed chairs will give the two scientists a dedicated source of funding for five years, when the chairs are reopened for review.
UC ANR established the two $1 million endowments for the endowed chairs last year. Half the funding was provided by UC President Janet Napolitano; the other half was donated by the California Pistachio Research Board. Establishment of the endowed chairs was announced last year by UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston.
“I'm pleased that we have identified two exceptional research programs to support with the first endowed chairs in the more than 100-year history of UC Cooperative Extension,” Humiston said. “I feel certain Craig and Bruce will make significant advances in pistachio production systems under California conditions.”
Pistachio breeding program
Kallsen said the endowment comes at a particularly opportune time for the UC pistachio breeding research program. In cooperation with UC Davis pomology researcher Dan Parfitt, Kallsen has been breeding pistachios as part of a variety selection program using conventional methods - manually crossing and then growing trees to determine whether they have beneficial characteristics.
“Breeding new varieties this way takes a while, especially in pistachios,” Kallsen said. “They don't bloom for four or five years. With some trials we are just now at the stage where it gets interesting. The funding will be helpful for evaluating the new progeny.”
Kallsen is looking for pistachio varieties that show novel nut, tree growth and yield characteristics, and for varieties that produce a high yield even under low-chill conditions.
“The climate appears to be warming,” Kallsen said. “That poses a problem for pistachios, because our current cultivars have a significant chilling requirement that has not always been met when we don't have cold, foggy winters.”
Kallsen plans to establish a trial pistachio orchard at the UC Riverside Coachella Valley Agricultural Research Station, where winter weather rarely dips to sufficient chill levels, to see which varieties produce acceptable crops under the warmer conditions.
Another key objective of the UC breeding program is identifying pistachio cultivars that mature at different times. At the moment, 90 percent of California pistachios are the Kerman variety. They all mature at the same time, putting pressure on harvesting, transportation, processing and storage resources.
“Ten years ago, UC introduced the Golden Hills variety, which matures about two weeks earlier. It now represents 5 or 10 percent of the state's crop,” Kallsen said. “We're looking closely at another potential cultivar that matures 10 days before Golden Hills.”
Pistachio research at UC Davis
Lampinen has devoted most of his career to almond and walnut research, but has worked on pistachios in collaboration with other UCCE specialists and advisors since 2009, focusing mainly on canopy light interception and salinity and their impacts on pistachio yield and water use.
Lampinen said his current work on almond and walnut water use as related to canopy size will be expanded to pistachio with the funding from the endowment.
“Some preliminary data on this is currently being gathered, but there is a need to expand this work to a wider range of orchard ages and planting configurations,” Lampinen said. “It will be very useful to have the ongoing support from an endowment.”
Lampinen's work in almonds and walnuts will also inform new pistachio research approaches. For example, Lampinen developed a no-pruning system for establishing new walnut orchards, and will study whether a similar approach in pistachio would make sense. For decades, California farmers believed that pruning young walnut trees was critical to healthy tree development. Lampinen observed unpruned walnut orchards in France, and “they looked perfectly fine,” he said.
Lampinen's research showed that pruning in the early years of tree development reduced water use efficiency and decreased walnut yields. By not pruning young trees, farmers could cut back significantly on labor costs and eliminate the need to dispose of the vegetation cut off the tree while using water more efficiently.
The no-pruning approach is now widely accepted in almonds and walnuts. With funding from the five-year endowment, he plans to compare the impacts of the alternative pruning systems on newly established pistachio orchards.
In addition, Lampinen said he plans to consult with pistachio industry leaders, growers and farm advisors to develop an effective research program on pistachio soil and water relations.
The study focuses on establishing an orchard and producing pistachios under low-volume (drip) irrigation in the southern San Joaquin Valley counties of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Merced and Tulare.
The economic life of the orchard used in this cost analysis is 40 years. The analysis is based upon a hypothetical farm operation of a well-managed orchard, using practices common to the region. Input and reviews were provided by growers, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates. Assumptions used to identify current costs for the pistachio crop, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead are described. A ranging analysis table shows profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, and the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.
The new study is titled “2015 Sample Costs to Establish a Pistachio Orchard and Produce Pistachios Under Low-volume Irrigation in the Southern San Joaquin Valley-South.”
This study and other sample cost of production studies for many commodities can be downloaded for free from the UC Davis Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics website at http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu.
For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Don Stewart at the Agricultural Issues Center at (530) 752-4651 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Half the funds for the endowed chairs was provided by UC President Janet Napolitano; the other half was donated by the California Pistachio Research Board. One is the UC Cooperative Extension Presidential Chair for Tree Nut Genetics; the other is the UC Cooperative Extension Presidential Chair for Tree Nut Soil Science and Plant Water Relations.
“The establishment of endowed chairs represents an historic occasion for UC ANR and is something we've never before enjoyed during the 100-years UC ANR Cooperative Extension has served California,” Humiston said. “The pistachio industry's contribution demonstrates its high level of confidence in our research and outreach program, and President Napolitano's match shows her recognition of the work we do not only on campuses but throughout UC ANR.”
UCCE is the applied research and outreach arm of the University of California that serves the agricultural industry, coordinates the 4-H program, supports natural resources stewardship, and provides nutrition education programs throughout the state.
The California Pistachio Research Board has a long history of funding ANR research. Since its establishment in 2007, the program's donations have totaled more than $3 million. Relative to other major California commodities, pistachio production is new. The first commercial crop was produced in 1976. In 2014, farmers harvested 519 million pounds of pistachios, valued at $1.8 billion.
Tom Coleman, a Fresno County pistachio farmer and chair of the Pistachio Research Board, said he enjoys informally comparing notes with other growers, but that doesn't substitute for scientific research.
“I find it absolutely invaluable to have good scientific research to apply on our farms,” Coleman said. “With impending changes in our water situation and a changing climate, research is really our only option.”
In fact, the industry has already felt the impact of climate change on yield. The pistachio growers expect the 2015 yield to be nearly 50 percent lower than the previous year, in large part due to a lack of sufficient winter chilling and water supply cuts, said Bob Klein, manager of the California Pistachio Research Board.
“We know that our future is going to look better with more research as we face the challenges of a warming climate and less water,” Klein said.
Napolitano created the Presidential Match for Endowed Chairs last year for UC campuses and UC ANR to use as an incentive to encourage donors to establish endowed chairs to fund research. Endowed chairs help attract and retain top-flight academics. Once established, endowed chairs provide a dedicated source of funds, in perpetuity, for the chair holder's scholarly activities.
“Donors who endow chairs are helping support the agricultural industry today, and contributing to future growth, innovation and success,” Humiston said. “We hope to establish more endowed chairs in UC Cooperative Extension with the help of our partners.”
View the announcement in the 12-minute video below:
- Author: Diane Nelson
“This course sets the standard for UC pomology extension courses with a wide array of farm advisor, specialist, and faculty instructors representing decades of experience in California pistachio production,” said Louise Ferguson, UCCE specialist with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “Topics span the full range of pistachio production including tree biology, orchard establishment, pruning, irrigation, nutrition, pest management, harvest and postharvest.”
In addition to the essentials of California pistachio production, the course will feature new lectures on hot topics, including:
- You know that feeling of walking into an orchard and realizing something is wrong? Farm advisors will help growers figure out what's wrong and how to fix it, outlining the diagnostic process they use to determine the cause of poor production or tree health.
- Although pistachio is more tolerant of salinity than most tree crops, excess salinity does affect pistachio tree biology and production. Combing pistachio biology with data from ongoing research projects, experts will provide the latest production recommendations for irrigation under saline conditions.
- The success of a pistachio orchard in California is ultimately determined by international markets and exports, even if all other aspects of production are optimal. Course participants will receive a current analysis of international markets and look into the future for pistachio production.
- Grade sheets are an important tool to measure yield and understand potential problems in an orchard. Experts will detail the components of grade sheets to connect this important postharvest tool to future orchard management decisions.
Participants will receive a bound copy of all lecture slides, the recently published Nutrient Deficiency in Pistachio booklet, and exclusive electronic resources.
Registration is available at the following link:
Or, visit the Fruit and Nut Research and Information Center website, fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu, for more information.