After 35 years of serving California growers through the University of California (UC) Cooperative Extension, Harry Andris has retired.
During his career as a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Fresno County, Andris introduced the concept of composting lawn and yard trimmings to turn waste into fertilizer. Using reflective materials, he showed growers how to bounce sunlight into the trees to give ripening tree fruit more color.
Andris was born and raised in Fresno. He earned a bachelor's degree in zoology and biology, and a master's degree in plant science from California State University, Fresno. In 1972, Andris started working for UC as a staff research associate at the Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier. He assisted with research on the disease Verticillium wilt in cotton and tomatoes, and on a plant parasite called broomrape. In 1975, he joined Cooperative Extension as a staff research associate working in pomology and viticulture. In 1978, he was named the viticulture farm advisor for Fresno County, and 1991, switched to pomology farm advisor to work with fresh tree fruit.
"He'll be greatly missed," said tree fruit and table grape grower Brian Paul of D & L Produce in Selma.
"You could have total confidence in what he'd say," said Paul, who worked with Andris for over 20 years. "He was conscientious and thorough."
Andris' research has had a dramatic impact on the grape and tree fruit industries.
After rains destroyed raisin crops in 1976 and 1978, Andris and UC viticulture specialist Fred Jensen evaluated methods of ripening the crop faster so that it could be harvested before the autumn rains began. In 1980, their research led to the state issuing a special use permit for ethephon (known by the brand name Ethrel) to enhance maturity of raisin grapes. Applying ethephon became standard practice, and raisin growers have not sustained any major rain-related crop losses since.
As a result of Andris' research, wine grape growers have improved their fruit production and profitability by planting vines with 10 feet between rows, instead of the traditional 12 feet.
Over seven years in the 1980s, he compared nine different trellising systems for growing raisins. Andris described which features improved yield and which improved quality, then let growers decide which trellis was best for their needs, said Manuel Medeiros, a raisin grape grower in Caruthers.
Bill Chandler, a Selma tree fruit and grape grower, has known Andris since he became a farm advisor.
"I knew I could always ask Harry about nutrition or anything. I was interested in reducing thinning costs in tree fruit so he did research on some oils. He was accessible and very responsive.”
In the 1990s, Andris developed a technique using metalized plastic film to reflect sunlight from the orchard floor into the tree to enhance color in tree fruit — apples, nectarines, peaches, mangoes, plums, and even blueberries. When he tested the reflective material in an apple orchard, "within four days of putting it down, you could see a color change," Andris said.
"That was a fun project," Andris related, recalling how he started with household aluminum foil before refining the material into a new product that local agricultural specialty firms could sell. "This technique was so successful that it was accepted and used worldwide within four years of its introduction at a Fresno County apple meeting."
"Harry is an example of how ag extension is a big asset because he was extending knowledge," Chandler said of Andris’ role with UC Cooperative Extension. "Big corporate farms can hire their specialists, but a lot of agriculture is made up of small farms and family farms. Ag extension is a big help to us all."
Andris has been granted emeritus status by the university, but his first task is to finish remodeling his home, which is located in the Sierra foothills town of Friant. He and his wife, Darlene, have invested a great deal of time and energy over the past five years, turning a house that had sat abandoned for 11 years into a showcase.