Recognizing outstanding service to an agricultural industry or commodity group often presents a wide number of choices, and time spent evaluating potential recipients. Last year, however, the selection for CAFA's annual Jim Kuhn Leadership Award was a relatively easy task for the association's board of directors.

The name everyone quickly agreed on was Vern Marble, who spent more than 30 years as a forage Extension specialist at the University of California, Davis before retiring in 1991. His nomination was a perfect fit for the criteria CAFA has established for the Jim Kuhn Award. The award was presented to Marble at the recent Western Alfalfa and Forage Conference in Reno, Nev.

When Jim Kuhn's life was tragically cut short in a vehicle accident in August of 2005, CAFA's Board was eager to recognize one of the industry's most innovative and selfless members. Although he was only 41 years old when he passed away, he was a leading figure who was widely recognized for his contributions to the industry and to the Imperial Valley where he farmed, operated a dairy and established a cheese company. He was a founding member of CAFA who was dedicated to building the association and making it a unified voice to speak on behalf of California's alfalfa and forage industry.

In establishing the award, CAFA Chairman Phil Bowles of Bowles Farming, Los Banos, developed the criteria for nominees. They include, “recognition for lasting contributions to the California alfalfa industry…and a demonstrated record of leadership and achievement in production, marketing, plant breeding, feeding, education, or public policy involving California alfalfa. An overarching criterion is the breadth and depth of the nominee's contributions, rather than demonstrated expertise in one particular area.”

Marble's long career and the “breadth and depth” of his contributions are impressive and fit the criteria established for the Jim Kuhn Leadership Award. As pointed out in the proceedings booklet that was prepared for last December's conference, “Dr. Marble was known for many years as ‘Mr. Alfalfa’ in California, and has a tremendous depth of knowledge about the crop, about the history of alfalfa in the West, breeding, genetics, pest management, forage quality just about any subject related for forage crops.”

Those who knew Marble during all or part of his 34 years at UC Davis are no doubt familiar with many of the developments that he was responsible for during his three decades of service. His research efforts over the years often focused on evaluation of alfalfa varieties and production of high quality hay and seed. Among the achievements he accomplished was the introduction of multiple, pest resistant varieties. He was instrumental in introducing CUF101, a variety that has had a major impact not only in California, but also in other countries that produce alfalfa, such as Australia and Argentina.

Other achievements cited in the conference proceedings include, leadership in introducing forage testing to the industry and promoting the need for standardization. He was a co-founder of the National Forage Testing Association, and chaired the National Alfalfa Hay Testing Association, which strives to eliminate test differences between states. A co-author of over 230 publications, Marble has also served as a consultant to more than a dozen countries. His long and distinguished career hasn't gone unnoticed and CAFA was pleased to recognize his many accomplishments and dedication to the alfalfa and forage industry.