- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Mussen, considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation, will receive the award March 1 at the California Small Farm Conference in San Diego. It is one of two annual awards memorializing Ilic, a Fresno County small-scale farm advisor who died in 1994. The other award, for outstanding grower, goes to Jay Ruskey of Calimoya Exotic Fruits of Goleta, Santa Barbara County. The company, which Ruskey founded in 1991, grows and markets California cherimoyas and other exotic fruits.
Mussen and Ilic worked together as members of the Small Farm Work Group in serving the statewide agricultural community, said nominators Larry Godfrey, Extension specialist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology, and Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the department.
“They were alike in many ways: their dedication, enthusiasm, high energy, friendliness, their commitment to small-scale and family farming, and the easy-going way they imparted information on a diversity of projects, solving a multitude of problems—and sometimes at a moment's notice,” Godfrey said.
Mussen educates the beekeeping industry and general public with his bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, which he launched in 1976. Since 1976, he has also written Bee Briefs, addressing such issues as diseases, pesticides and swarms. Both publications are on the UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site.
“Eric is a worldwide authority on honey bees, but no problem is too small and no question too involved for him to answer,” Godfrey said. “He devotes his research and extension activities to the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices. Eric helps growers, consumers, UC Farm Advisors, agricultural commissioners, scientists, beekeepers, researchers, pesticide regulators, 4-H'ers, and state and national agricultural and apicultural organizations. He ignites their interest in maintaining the health of bees, cultivates their friendship, and generously gives of his time and intellect.”
With the decline of the honey bee population and the increase of the mysterious colony collapse disorder, his expertise is now more highly sought than ever,” Godfrey pointed out. “Any threat to honey bees is a threat to agriculture and a cause for his concern and a desire to assist. He is the only Extension Apiculturist in the UC system and in many regards, functions as the Extension entomologist for apiculture in the western U.S. and indeed, much of the country.”
Mussen was named the California Beekeeper of the Year in 2006, won the American Association of Professional Apiculturists' Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture in 2007, and in 2008 he received the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.
In 2009, Mussen served as president of the Western Apicultural Society, an organization he helped found in 1977. He delivered the keynote addresses at the 2009 California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) and the 2009 American Honey Producers' Association conventions. In addition, he provides leadership roles in the CSBA, the California Bee Breeders' Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, American Honey Producers' Association, National Honey Board, American Beekeeping Federation, American Association of Professional Apiculturists, and the Northern California Entomology Society, among others.
“Yet he is just as open to answering a question about Nosema to a beginning beekeeper or responding to a child's question about queen bees as he is to helping a commercial beekeeper with 15,000 hives, or engaging in intricate scientific research,” Godfrey said.
Mussen periodically speaks to some 20 beekeeping organizations a year, taking time from his busy schedule (often on the weekends and evenings) to travel to all parts of California and beyond, the nominators said. Mussen also mans the honey-tasting table at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day, where he encourages patrons to sample honey and ask questions. He displayed an observation hive at the 2008 and 2009 Dixon May Fair, where he answered questions from fairgoers.
Mussen, who is the UC Davis representative to the California State Apiary Board, offers input to the Department of Pesticide Regulation, particularly with the pesticide registration group. Lately he assisted U.S. beekeepers in writing letters to receive compensation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their CCD (colony collapse disorder) bee losses.
Mussen works closely with Cooperation Extension, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, researchers in the UC system, researchers at the USDA/ARS honey bee laboratories at Beltsville, Md; Baton Rouge, La.; Tucson, AZ; Weslaco, Texas, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
Mussen serves on various committees and task forces of state and national organizations, reviews numerous manuscripts for journals; reviews annual research proposals to the California State Beekeepers' Association, the Almond Board of California, and the National Honey Board; reviews Small Business Innovation Research applications at the federal level; and is requested to comment on promotion evaluations for university and USDA researchers.
For the last 10 years, Mussen has been in charge of the California State 4-H Bee Essay Contest, disseminating guidelines, collecting entries and chairing the judging. The state winner advances to national competition.
Mussen was also lauded for his work with the news media. He has been interviewed by the BBC, Lehrer Hour, Associated Press, National Public Radio, Good Morning America, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, KGO Radio, Boston Globe and scores of other media. Two of his videos on bee health appear on the UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site and Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. An hour-long video on colony collapse disorder is on the national eXtension Web site.
Ilic, a native of Chile and a 1964 graduate of the University of Chile, came to the United States in 1965 on a California Farm Bureau scholarship and worked as a farm laborer. He continued his education at California State University, Fresno. He joined the UC Cooperative Extension in 1976 as a small-farms advisor. He died at age 50 in Fresno County.
The Pedro Ilic Awards single out individuals who carry on Ilic's work. According to the award criteria, each honoree
- envisions what can be done and has the imagination, energy, and intellect to translate that vision into a successful activity
- is part of the solution, not of the problem; critical in thinking, but constructive in approach
- is an advocate and risk taker
- is an effective teacher, instills self-esteem in others and constantly encourages others;
- is a dedicated professional who believes in his or her work
- has determination, exuberance, high energy, and genuine friendliness for all people, with the conviction that the smallest is as important as the biggest
- has high personal and family values.
The California Small Farm Conference, set Feb. 28-March 2, is an educational conference that includes on-farm tours, focused workshops, general educational sessions and opportunities for peer networking.