As fruit and nut production grows throughout California, a vital element to that growth is shrinking: pomology education.

“It’s a huge problem,” says Tim Gerdts with Burchell Nursery in Fresno, a salesman who specializes in helping growers buy and manage fruit and nut trees. “With all the cutbacks in California, there are fewer horticulture teachers, fewer farm advisors and fewer ways for farmers to get good information. Our region is so productive for almonds, pistachios, citrus, cherries, peaches, nectarines—you name it—but growers don’t always have the knowledge they need.”

Burchell and others say a new two-week pomology short course offered by UC Cooperative Extension fruit and nut experts and University of California, Davis Department of Plant Sciences faculty will help fill that gap, providing the fundamentals of tree biology essential to making smart orchard management and business decisions.

The short course will be held Feb. 25 through March 7, 2013, at the UC Davis Conference Center, led by a team of experts including Ted DeJong, a longtime plant physiology professor in the plant sciences department and extension pomologist.

“Most courses like this focus on tree-crop management practices, telling you what to do and when to do it,” DeJong says. “I like to start by developing an integrated understanding of how trees grow and function and then students and growers understand why they do what they do when they do it. When they understand what causes a plant stress, for example, they make decisions accordingly. And they are better able to diagnose problems.”

Farmers, orchard managers and students will all benefit from the course and from DeJong’s approach, says Gerdts, the son of Marvin Gerdts, a former Cooperative Extension pomologist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, Calif.

“When I started at Burchell Nursery 27 years ago, there were farm advisors throughout the state who could teach pruning and answer farmers’ questions,” Tim Gerdts says. “Now, the few farm advisors who specialize in tree crops are stretched so thin. And for years, the California Tree Fruit Agreement arranged for Ted DeJong to come to Fresno and teach classes on stone-fruit tree physiology and practices. But that program was voted out, so those classes are gone, too.”

Gerdts has occasionally joined with Bob Beede, a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor from Kings County, to teach pruning and other orchard-management practices to growers in the Central Valley.

“But that only goes so far,” Gerdts says. “The need for good information is huge. I see it all the time in my line of work — not only the lack of information among fruit and nut growers but the misinformation.”