News of cutbacks in tree fruit research cast a pall over what is likely the last of the annual gathering of peach, plum and nectarine growers at the University of California Kearney Ag Center
“I’m sorry we made this sound like a wake,” said Ted DeJong, a UC Davis researcher on tree crop physiology at the field day near Parlier, Calif.
DeJong offered no sugar-coating for what has happened to California’s public funding of UC research and said the tree fruit growers and packers are sure to feel the pinch now that grower-funded research and marketing programs through the California Tree Fruit Agreement (CTFA) are shutting down.
CTFA, based in Reedley, has funded decades of research. But a grower vote fell short of the tally needed to keep the federal peach and nectarine marketing orders alive. It will wind down its operations by September.
The board for the separate state marketing order for plums will meet in early fall to decide whether to suspend that operation, which is authorized to operate another three years.
At one of the orchards where DeJong talked of rootstock, he was blunt in his comments on what the demise of the tree fruit agreement means. He said the industry no longer has the clout to put pressure on what sort of research is done in the UC system.
DeJong said, for example, where a plant pathologist works “will depend on where the money is; if there is no money, there is not going to be any work. You guys have to sort this out; I’m not threatening you. It’s just a fact. The university looks at where the funding is. All we get now is a lab and an office and a license to hunt.”
From that point, he said, researchers are dependent on funds that can be generated for their work.
DeJong said he likely will have to remove trees from an orchard at Kearney because of the cost of $6,000 to $8,000 a year to maintain them. “If I don’t have the bulk of that money, we can’t keep (them),” he said.
Elsewhere, participants in the field day heard of curtailed research on temperature controls during movement of tree fruit to market and the expected demise of a newsletter on postharvest work that is two decades old. The research pinch is also being felt in a building where fungicide research has been a key to providing needed tools to fight problems that include powdery mildew and brown rot.
“We’ve shot ourselves in the foot,” said Bill Chandler, a Selma-Parlier grower who said he is “big time concerned” about the impact of the loss of research funding, particularly on smaller farming and packing operations. Not only has state funding dropped, but the end to CTFA assessments for research means that the industry has lost its ability to guide what research is done with what funds remain.
Chandler has worked with researchers in areas that include thinning, tree height and mechanization.
The recent meeting is the only one planned for tree fruit growers at Kearney this summer. Kevin Day, a UC farm adviser for Tulare County on tree fruit, said there are normally three such meetings, but it was decided to hold “just one longer meeting this year.”
Day said there are also no plans for a variety display and tasting this year. He said that is not related to funding, but is because a major nursery that normally participates decided not to do so “for proprietary reasons.”