UC Proposes New Wine Extension Positions

Veterans retiring; California grape growers and vintners invited to comment online until Aug. 7

by Jon Tourney
oakville experimental vineyard
The University of California Cooperative Extension hopes to get funding for a winegrape viticulture specialist at the Oakville Experimental Station (above.)
Davis, Calif.—The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) has proposed specialist and advisor positions that include a new winegrape viticulture specialist for the Oakville Experimental Station in Napa Valley, a new grape and wine economics specialist at UC Davis (UCD) and several viticulture advisor positions for inland counties that have been without vit advisors in recent years.

A total of 107 positions have been proposed statewide through the UC division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) 2012 Call for Supplemental Positions, of which eight are viticulture positions. Other proposed positions—such as irrigation specialists and integrated pest management (IPM) specialists—could also benefit farmers of winegrapes and other crops. Industry groups, companies and individuals can provide public comments online for any of the proposed positions through Aug. 7 at this link.

Dr. James MacDonald, a UCD plant pathologist and executive associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, posted written proposals for a number of the positions including the Oakville viticulturist and the UCD grape and wine economist. MacDonald noted that positions are proposed annually through this process by UCANR personnel representing UCD, UC Berkeley and UC Riverside, the three agriculture campuses under which extension personnel are employed. Proposals in recent years have been for replacements to fill positions that have been vacant due to budget constraints, and also reflect new subject areas and priorities to adapt to the changing needs of agriculture and natural resource management.

McKenry and Bentley retire
Explaining a justification for filling positions now, MacDonald said, “A lot of people in extension are approaching retirement age, and we need new people now to come into the system and be mentored by the experienced specialists and advisors before they leave.” Several county viticulture farm advisors and specialists at UCD will likely retire in the near future.

Two long-time UCCE specialists known for their contributions in the management of vineyards and other crops retired June 30: Mike McKenry, a nematologist who did research and evaluation trials on grape and orchard rootstocks as well as the use of fumigants and other treatments for nematode control; and Walt Bentley, an entomologist who specialized in IPM strategies to reduce use of high-risk insecticides. Both were based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fresno County. McKenry worked with UCCE for 40 years, Bentley for 35 years.

The number of positions filled will depend on the state budget and the outcome of the Nov. 6 ballot initiative proposed by California Gov. Jerry Brown to raise taxes to support education. MacDonald is optimistic that as many as 20 positions, similar to last year, will be filled once the evaluation process and budget details are worked out. However, if the ballot initiative fails, the UC system expects to have its budget reduced, and priorities could change based on available funding at that time. After the Aug. 7 comment period ends, UC evaluation groups will begin ranking positions by priority for funding. After Nov. 6, final rankings will be completed, and the top-ranked positions will be filled down the list to the extent funds are available.

MacDonald noted that the overall extension budget and staff have been gradually shrinking over the past 15 years. In the case of the wine and grape industry, although it has grown significantly in acreage and economic value during the past 20 years, the number of wine grape specialists and advisors is smaller than it was 20 years ago.

Proposed grape and wine positions
Duties for all positions include targeted research projects, extension and outreach to disseminate information to the wine and grape industry.

• Winegrape viticulture specialist at the Oakville Experimental Station in Napa Valley: Position’s focus will be vineyard water use/conservation, water status sensing and technology development, nutrient status/utilization and vineyard mechanization. The Oakville station has lab and office space and 40 acres of vineyard land. MacDonald said, “We need to raise the visibility and importance of the Oakville facility and make it a focal point for research in the Napa Valley.”

• Specialist in economics of grape and wine issues: Based at UCD in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the economist would work with faculty scientists and economists in a multi-disciplinary approach from the departments of Viticulture & Enology; Land, Air and Water Resources; and Plant Sciences. The scope would include all end-uses of grapes—wine, juice production, table grapes and raisins, and the entire value chain used in production from the vineyard to the final consumer. Issues include competition for resources with other segments of agriculture; competition for markets; regulatory and policy changes; and requirements to adapt to pests and invasive species, climate change and consumer demand. There are currently ag economists at UCD who study wine and grapes on a part-time basis, but MacDonald said, “A full-time specialist would be a real asset who could work with industry segments throughout the state and provide a more direct benefit to the industry.”

• UCCE viticulture specialist with winegrape specialization based at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo: Cal Poly will provide office space and support as well as campus vineyards for research. The position will provide research and outreach for the Central Coast wine industry and establish a partnership between the UC and the California State University systems.

• Viticulture farm advisor for Solano, Yolo, and Sacramento counties: Chuck Ingels, viticulture advisor for Sacramento County, also has provided extension outreach for growers in the Delta/Clarksburg area in Yolo County, but Yolo and Solano Counties have been without regular vit advisors for several years. A new person would fill this position, based in the Yolo County Extension office in Woodland, and work on a multi-county basis. Ingels would focus on his other duties in the orchard crops, horticulture and Master Gardener programs.

• Viticulture advisor for Madera, Merced and Mariposa counties: Based in Madera County, which is currently without a vit advisor, this position would serve the owners of 92,000 acres of wine, raisin, table and concentrate grape production with a focus on irrigation and nutrient management.

• Viticulture advisor for Kern County: Focus would be on table grapes that are the dominant grape crop but would also include raisin and wine grapes. Kern County is currently without a vit advisor.

• Viticulture farm advisor for Tulare, Kings and Kern counties: Focus on table, raisin and winegrapes that comprise 139,000 acres, with an emphasis on water/soil management. Tulare has been without a vit advisor for three years.

• Area viticultural advisor for Tulare and Kings counties: Focus would be on table grapes that dominate acreage in these two counties, but would also include raisin and winegrapes.

With declining budgets at both the state and county levels, the county extension offices that have provided office space and expenses for advisors have been creating multi-county partnerships to consolidate and share personnel and office space among two or more adjacent counties. The Sierra Foothill counties of El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne recently formed the Central Sierra Cooperative Extension unit. Viticulture farm advisor Lynn Wunderlich added Calaveras County to her service area after serving Amador and El Dorado counties exclusively for 10 years. “We will likely see more multi-county assignments among county advisors and commodity specialists, as more counties are getting together to share costs and struggling to make things work,” MacDonald observed.

Industry support needed
It is expected that specific research projects for extension personnel will receive funding and grants from traditional sources such as the American Vineyard Foundation, the National Grape & Wine Initiative, the California Table Grape Commission and the California Raisin Marketing Board. However, some industry groups also have pledged to provide partial funding for some of the proposed positions.

For the grape and wine economist at UCD, Sun-Maid Growers, a raisin cooperative, has pledged to help with start-up costs for the position by donating $10,000 per year for the first four years. The California Table Grape Commission has offered partial funding for viticulture advisor positions in Tulare and Kern counties.

“If somebody as part of their public comments wanted to include a pledge or donation saying they will give X-amount for a specific position if it is filled, it would give the evaluation committee something to take into consideration when ranking the proposal,” MacDonald said. He summarized, “People need to realize, government subsidies for research are disappearing, and industry will have to take on a bigger share of the funding. They are the ultimate beneficiaries of that research.”

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