University of California farm advisors and specialists with a combined service of 250 years retired June 30, leaving rather large shoes to fill by incoming farm advisors, and a learning curve about agricultural systems in the Golden State that can be remarkably different than elsewhere in the United States.
The connection between the university researcher and the commercial grower is an important one as California farmers and ranchers continue to face production and other challenges.
At least seven of those advisors with a combined 212 years of service who retired at the end of the fiscal year (June 30) worked closely with Central Valley growers. They include:
- Gregorio Billikopf (33 years) - labor management farm advisor in San Joaquin, Stanislau,s and Merced counties;
- Alejandro Castillo (12 years) - dairy farm advisor, Merced County;
- Carol Frate (36 years) - field crops farm advisor, Tulare County;
- Michelle Le Strange (31 years) - vegetable crops and environmental horticulture advisor, Tulare County;
- Larry Schwankl (28 years) - irrigation specialist, UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Parlier;
- Eric Mussen (38 years) - apiculture specialist, UC Davis; and
- Joe Connell (34 years) - orchard and landscape horticulture farm advisor, Butte County. Connell most recently served as the UCCE Butte County director.
The university has been busy working to replace farm advisors throughout the state, including trying to fill some critical positions left vacant by retirements and departures.
Most recently the University of California hired Allison Ferry-Abee as viticulture advisor for Tulare, Kern, and Kings counties. Ferry-Abee started the job June 16 to a region that has an extensive number of acres of wine, table, and raisin grapes. Combined, the three counties have more than 170,000 acres of grapes with a farm-gate value of more than $2.4 billion.
She earned her B.S. in plant science from California State University, Fresno and her doctorate in plant pathology at UC Davis. Ferry-Abee's research focus will be developing practical integrated pest management (IPM) recommendations for growers.
Another IPM advisor was hired to work in the Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Tehama, and Yuba County UCCE offices. Emily Symmes joined the university staff in June. She is a northern California native.
Symmes earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in entomology from UC Riverside and a Ph.D. in entomology from UC Davis. Her research focus will be agricultural entomology, arthropod vectors of plant pathogens, insect behavior, IPM, and the use of semiochemicals to improve pest management.
Prior to joining UCCE, Symmes taught courses in biology and agricultural sciences at Butte Community College and CSU Chico.
Katherine Pope joined UCCE as extension farm advisor in almonds, prunes, and walnuts in Yolo, Sacramento, and Solano counties. Pope's academic credentials include a B.A. degree in history from Harvard College, M.S. degree in international agricultural development from UC Davis, and a Ph.D. in horticulture and agronomy, also from UC Davis.
Her dissertation research centered on temperature and bloom timing in almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. Since fcompleting her doctoral studies in 2013, Pope worked on fertilizer management research and tools for walnut growers, including a monthly nutrient demand budget and updated leaf sampling protocols with numerous UC Davis labs, UCCE farm advisors, the California Walnut Board, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Earlier this year, the university hired Dani Lightle, a recent graduate from Oregon State University with a Ph.D. in entomology. Lightle is the extension orchard systems farm advisor in Tehama, Butte, and Glenn counties.