A life-long Tulare County agriculturalist, Bill Peacock retired from University of California Cooperative Extension in June ending a 36-year distinguished career helping local table, raisin, and wine grape growers.
Farming runs in Peacock’s blood. He represents the fifth generation of his family, on both his mother’s and his father’s sides, to farm in Tulare County. While he was growing up, his father would call on legendary Tulare County farm advisor Fred Jensen to come to the farm for consultation.
“I was impressed and thought that farm advising would be a rewarding job,” Peacock said. “Fred became a specialist and moved to Kearney in 1972 and I was hired as his replacement.”
During his career, Peacock completed an extensive body of research focused on improving grapevine cultural practices, including canopy management, trellis design, irrigation scheduling, deficit irrigation and grapevine nutrition.
In all, he authored or co-authored 161 peer-reviewed scientific articles, 276 newsletter, county publications and proceeding articles and 185 articles in the popular press. His writing was recognized in 1990 when his publication on nitrogen fertilization of grapevines was named the "best paper of the year" by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.
Peacock said he has seen vast changes in Tulare County viticulture during his career. Average table grape production increased from 400 boxes per acre in 1972 to about 1,000 boxes per acre today. Irrigation efficiency has cut the amount of water needed to produce the crop from 4 acre-feet to 2. Drip irrigation has allowed growers to carefully meter nutrients to vines.
“There has been a renaissance in the raisin industry in the past 15 years with growers producing dried-on-vine raisins or drying on continuous trays and using mechanical harvesters to reduce cost,” he said. “Both table and raisin grape growers have gone to more expansive trellis systems and are using sophisticated canopy management techniques to enhance production and fruit quality.”
Peacock plans to stay in Tulare County during retirement and will continue some of his viticulture research as an emeritus farm advisor. He also expects to do more traveling, hiking in the Sierra Nevada and spending time with his family.
The farm family line does not snap with the sixth Peacock generation. Peacock and his wife raised their two children on a small farm near Woodlake. His daughter graduated this year from the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and his son is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
"And so the beat goes on," Peacock said.