Industry Insights - Farm Advisor Research Associates - West Coast Nut


Industry Insights – Farm Advisor Research Associates

Published: July 13, 2020 • 1338 views

County-based University of California (UC) Cooperative Extension farm advisors are a vital link between UC and United States Department of Agriculture campus-based researchers and growers. For many years after the UC began stationing them in the counties in 1914, farm advisors’ main responsibility was to disseminate and encourage the adoption of new ideas and practices flowing rapidly at the time from research being conducted on UC campuses. Over time, though, their responsibilities expanded to conducting applied research projects in the counties, mainly in growers’ orchards. Today, it is not uncommon for farm advisors to spend 50 to 60 percent of their time on applied research – either on their own or collaboratively with campus-based researchers, specialists and other farm advisors.

In recent years, farm advisors have increasingly become spread thin by steady increases in the scope of their position responsibilities – driven especially by attrition in advisor positions due to state and federal budget cuts, retirements and other changes. Nearly all farm advisors now cover multiple counties and must concentrate their efforts on a few major commodities in their region.
Over the past two years, representatives of several commodity groups have engaged tree nut and fruit farm advisors in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys in conversations about how financial support might augment and strengthen farm advisor capacity for addressing applied research needs of their growers and allied industries.\

A consensus emerged from these conversations to position commodity board-funded research associates in key Sacramento and San Joaquin valley locations to help fruit and nut farm advisors conduct their applied research and related extension outreach activities. The California Walnut Board (CWB) Research Director, Joe Grant, worked closely with members of the CWB’s Production Research Committee (PRC) as the new initiative took shape. “We have appreciated farm advisors’ growing involvement in applied research over the years, and this action strengthens their ability to address industry challenges through research,” said PRC Chair Jerry Moore. Committee Vice-Chair Bob Driver agrees. “We recognize the challenges farm advisors face as their ranks have shrunk and their coverage areas have expanded in recent years,” Driver said.

In March of this year, CWB, along with the Almond Board of California and the California Pistachio Research Board, approved a proposal to jointly fund four research associate positions – two in the Sacramento Valley housed in Butte and Yolo counties, and two in the central San Joaquin Valley housed in Fresno and Tulare counties. In this first year of the initiative, the CWB has committed to funding half of each Sacramento Valley position and half of the Tulare-Kings position. The other boards will provide the balance in proportion to the amount of time the associates spend on research supporting each commodity.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), which administers UC Cooperative Extension applied research and extension outreach programs in the counties, worked with CWB and the other commodity groups to craft an agreement to guide hiring and co-locating the new associates with farm advisors in their respective county locations.
“We are pleased and grateful to collaborate with the commodity boards to strengthen UC ANR’s applied research capacity in this way,” said Glenda Humiston, UC ANR Vice President. “This arrangement adds a new dimension to the long-standing and productive partnership between the University of California and California’s tree nut growers to build strong and sustainable farming operations for the future.”

Grant said the commodity boards believe at least two additional positions are needed and should be considered in the future. “There are heavy concentrations of tree fruit and nut acreage and growers in the southern (Kern County) and northern (San Joaquin and Stanislaus) San Joaquin Valley,” Grant said. “In our view, the need for assistance relative to the number of farm advisors in these regions is a little less acute than in the four being funded now. If this model is successful and funds are available, expanding it into these other areas should be considered in future years. And there are other commodities that have expressed an interest in possibly joining the initiative in the future,” he added.