UC Cooperative Extension agronomy farm advisor in Colusa County, Jerry Schmierer, a leader in the integration of information technology into agricultural business, will retire April 30.
Raised on a San Joaquin County organic farm, Schmierer had a knack for identifying promising new technologies. When personal computers, email and the World Wide Web were introduced mid-way through his career, Schmierer began looking for ways he could use them to extend research information to farmers and for farmers to use them in managing their businesses.
"I saw IT as a tool that could be integrated into successful farm management in the same way as the judicious use of pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation," Schmierer said. "The next generation of farm managers will not only embrace all aspects of information technology, they will demand it."
Every year, Schmierer undertook at least one IT project in addition to his traditional agronomy research projects. For example, he used the global positioning system for mapping yellow starthistle, employed remote sensing for crop mapping in the Sacramento Valley, and developed the web interface for a weed herbicide susceptibility database.
Schmierer was also an early adopter when it came to agricultural research. Working with legendary farm advisor Franz Kegal, Schmierer conducted his first experiment – a sorghum variety trial on his father’s farm – as a 14-year-old 4-H member.
Schmierer earned a bachelor’s degree in plant science at Fresno State University in 1974 and completed a master ‘s degree in agriculture in 1993. In 2001, he earned a graduate certificate at Chico State University in management information systems.
Schmierer was named the farm advisor and county director for UC Cooperative Extension in Lassen County in 1981, a position he held for 17 years. After a year-long sabbatical at Purdue University focused on information technology, Schmierer moved in 1998 to Colusa County to serve as the agronomy farm advisor.
"Farm advisor is the best job in the organization," Schmierer said. "You get to solve problems in the real world."
During nearly 30 years with UC Cooperative Extension, there were several recurring themes in his agricultural research.
"I have always looked at the economics of a particular management practice as well as the agronomic feasibility," he said. "Providing good research-based information to growers so that they can make better management decisions has been the goal of my career."
Weed control protocol
For example, an effective and economical weed control protocol Schmierer developed for alfalfa winter weed control is still the standard practice used by farmers in the intermountain and the Sacramento valleys. Using field research, Schmierer and his colleagues disproved a long-standing assumption that surface-applied phosphorus fertilizer is not effectively taken up by established alfalfa plants. This research proved that the phosphorus is taken up under spring growing conditions.
Since wheat has a low income potential, the economics of each agronomic practice must be analyzed. Schmierer led a team of farm advisors in an effort to substantiate the economic use of fungicides to control stripe rust pathogens in wheat.
We were able to define the conditions when fungicide usage was economically viable and conditions when the return was less than the investment of a fungicide treatment," he said. "This information, coupled with striperust-resistant varieties developed by UC Davis researchers, have given growers and pest control advisers what is needed to economically grow wheat in much of California."
Schmierer said he prefers to refer to the end of his career with UC Cooperative Extension not as "retirement," but as "graduation." To kick off his new life, Schmierer and his wife plan to take a six-month cross-country road trip that will end in Layfayette, Ind., where they plan to settle close to family. In time, he will start a private business in agriculture and information technology.