UC works to fill gaps in its corps of farm advisors

Six cooperative extension advisor openings created for UC Ag and Natural Resources division

By Kevin Hecteman
California Farm Bureau

CALIFORNIA – After a months-long holdup, the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources division will start looking for people to fill six Cooperative Extension advisor openings.

UCANR said recruitment for the jobs had been on hold since July because of budget constraints.

Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said in a statement that while the jobs need to be filled, “there are many more needs for both UC Cooperative Extension specialist and advisor positions that continue to wait for additional funding.”

California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said farm advisors represent “a vital link” from UC research sites to California fields and pastures.

“Filling these positions will help address a statewide shortage of advisors,” Johansson said. “Knowledge shared by farm advisors through the decades has helped California reach and retain its position as the nation’s top producer of high-quality food and agricultural products, and we need to keep that resource alive.”

CFBF administrator Jim Houston described the recruiting as “a good start” but added a decades-long backup needs to be addressed.

UCCE had 202 specialists and 326 advisors on the payroll in 1990, according to UCANR figures; by 2018, those numbers had declined to 109 and 170, respectively.

“It’s our members who struggle when a farm advisor isn’t available,” Houston said. “It’s their communities that don’t have as much productive capacity. It’s their operations that are not going to be as efficient as they would otherwise be.”

Mike Mellano, whose family has been growing cut flowers in San Luis Rey for the past 50 years, said he is “excited” UCCE is recruiting for a San Diego County horticulture advisor. The previous advisor retired two years ago.

The absence of a UCCE expert means “farms don’t advance as rapidly as they should and need to in order to keep up with the changing times,” he said. “It’s especially critical for those farms and farmers that are smaller in size.”

Mellano said UCCE expertise has helped him with techniques that include soil-moisture monitoring, use of beneficial insects to control pest pressures and improved methods for overall production and fertilizer optimization.

“Our farm, the way it operates and what it does, is a direct output of our partnership and cooperation with the University of California and the Cooperative Extension service,” he said. “When those positions aren’t filled, it’s very hard to get the translational knowledge out of the universities into the farmer’s hands as fast as possible.”

Houston said the barriers to entry for new farmers—such as land prices and regulatory hurdles—are higher than ever, and that UCCE and the Farm Bureau were launched “to solve this very problem.”

Back in the 1910s, before a farm advisor could be assigned to a county, a farm organization representing at least 20% of the county’s farmers had to be up and running. Humboldt County was the first in the state to have its Farm Bureau operational, in 1913; the movement led to the 1919 creation of CFBF itself, which initially was based at the University of California, Berkeley, to be close to UCCE headquarters.

“Here we are a hundred years later,” Houston said, “and we still need to get those resources out to new and beginning farmers so that they understand how one gets into farming, and how one overcomes the challenges of farming.”

Along with the production horticulture advisor to be based in San Diego County, UCCE will begin recruiting next month for the following openings:

  • An agronomy area advisor in Merced County;
  • A livestock and natural resources advisor in Siskiyou County;
  • A nutrition, family and consumer sciences area advisor in San Mateo and San Francisco counties;
  • A vegetable crops and small farms advisor in Riverside County;
  • A pomology and water/soils area advisor in Kings County.

UCCE is also recruiting for five other openings, including a viticulture advisor in Kern County; a climate and agriculture project scientist; a human-wildlife-conflict advisor in the San Francisco Bay Area; a small farms and specialty crops assistant specialist in Fresno County; and a 4-H STEM academic coordinator.

Houston called the idea of STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics education—in 4-H a “natural intersection.”

“We wouldn’t be where we are today as a farming industry and ranching industry but for the creativity and the wherewithal of farmers on those very topics,” he said. “4-H is a natural portal.”

UCCE also recently hired half a dozen advisors, specialists and a director: Kim Ingram, forest stewardship education academic coordinator for Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and El Dorado counties; Safeeq Khan, water and watershed sciences specialist at UC Merced; Cindy Kron, integrated pest management advisor for Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties; Mallika Nocco, soil-plant-water relations specialist at UC Davis; Karmjot Randhawa, UCCE director in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties; and Qi Zhou, assistant specialist for small farms in Santa Clara County.

Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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