San Joaquin County farm advisor retires

Mick Canevari's love of agriculture and commitment to helping others, instilled in childhood on the family farm established 100 years ago by Italian immigrant grandparents, provided the framework for a successful 36-year career with University of California Cooperative Extension. He retires June 29.

Canevari was born and raised on the rural San Joaquin County farm he still works to this day. The family produced a variety of fruit and vegetables that they harvested and trucked in the early morning hours to grocery store buyers. He held a few odd jobs during his formative years, but he said, always had a hand in planting, pruning and harvesting.

"Growing up on the farm was an absolutely perfect environment for me," Canevari said.

After high school, he attended San Joaquin Delta College and later transferred to California State University, Fresno, where he earned a bachelor's degree in agronomy and plant protection in June 1971. That same summer he was hired as a field and laboratory technician at UC Cooperative Extension in San Joaquin County.

"I saw the work that farm advisors were doing, the level of professionalism, the knowledge they were providing for farmers and knew that was something I wanted to be a part of," Canevari said.

In 1973, Canevari accepted his first academic appointment with UCCE as a 4-H youth development advisor. In 1979, he was named the county agronomy and weed science farm advisor, and in 2002, Canevari also took on the role of county director.

Canevari worked on a variety of research and extension projects over the years in such crops as small grains, rice, beans, alfalfa and corn. His personal interest in pest management led to extensive research in weed control. His weed management research turned out many of the practices and techniques used by farmers today.

"My projects have been a team effort conducted in collaboration with other advisors, specialists affiliated with UC campuses and private industry," Canevari said. "It was our job to anticipate and solve problems farmers might have and do the research ahead of time so they wouldn't experience economic hardships when those issues arose."

Canevari also helped farmers by testing new crops, several of which are commercially grown now in the area and accepted in the marketplace. For example, orchardgrass and ryegrass hay crops have become popular statewide, and specialty beans tested 15 years ago – such as Anasazi, Calypso, Mother Stoddard and Christmas limas – remain a small but viable specialty crop.

"Beans grow very well here, demand is increasing and selling at a good price," Canevari said. "We anticipated this opportunity a decade ago and those farmers who have persisted have been fairly successful."

Rice is another crop that Canevari has evaluated for its potential in the Escalon area and, more recently, in the San Joaquin Delta. A multi-agency research project funded with a grant from the state of California's CALFED Bay-Delta Program is studying rice farming systems and the benefits for the Delta soils. His collaboration with the California Rice Experiment Station – a non-profit research facility owned by California rice growers – started a rice nursery in the Delta that now evaluates 25,000 new lines of rice a year.

"Rice is now a commercial crop that is doing very well here and growing in popularity," Canevari said. "Cultivating rice in the Delta has long-term potential for rebuilding our organic soils, improving water quality and enhancing the population of migratory birds. This is a perfect fit for agriculture and the environment."

Canevari has been honored on many occasions for his work. Two years ago, he received the Jim Kuhn Leadership Award from the California Alfalfa Forage Association. The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors honored him for his contributions to the local agricultural community; he received a research Award of Excellence from the California Weed Science Society and a Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.

Canevari realized a significant accomplishment when the UC Cooperative Extension staff moved last year from an out-dated facility into a new $25 million agricultural complex near the Stockton Airport. The 45,000-square-foot main building, which also houses the agricultural commissioner's office, includes meeting rooms, a demonstration kitchen and five model demonstration gardens.

"We worked closely with the County Board of Supervisors, the farm bureau and the local agricultural industry for 8 years to make this full-service agricultural facility a reality," Canevari said. "Not only does it provide us with state-of-the-art resources to serve farmers and the community, it represents the county's continuing commitment to agriculture, youth and environmental conservation."

Last month, Canevari was awarded emeritus status by the vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Dan Dooley. As emeritus farm advisor, Canevari will continue to oversee several projects for UC Cooperative Extension following his retirement.

His retirement plans also allow time for other pursuits. Canevari said he and his wife will continue to operate her specialty clothing store in Stockton and he will manage the family farm. An avid outdoorsman, Canevari already has plans for a two-week hunting trip in Canada this summer, and the local fishing and hunting he has enjoyed all his life will continue, but with greater frequency.

"The one thing that will change is that now I won't have to come home on Sundays," Canevari said.

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