Retirement is a time of reflection…looking back and hoping somewhere, somehow a career made a difference.
It will few years before that opportunity comes my way. However, several with whom I've worked over the past 25 years or so have retired from the industry called “Western agriculture,” leaving behind accomplishments that are noteworthy.
Over the years as an agricultural journalist reporting on California and Arizona agriculture, key sources of information for me have always been University of California and University of Arizona Cooperative Extension farm advisors/Extension agents and specialists and others in the UC and UA systems. The retirement this summer of a man with whom I have worked with often offered an occasion to reflect on the contribution of these men and women.
Bill Weir retired a few weeks ago after 36 years with the University of California, the last 28 as a farm advisor in Merced County, working primarily with cotton. Bill is part of a scientific fraternity that devotes their lives to discovering, validating or disapproving using proven science to help California and Arizona farmers and ranchers do a better, more profitable job of producing food and fiber.
Bill was honored at his retirement event for many accomplishments, most notably his work in developing narrow-row and, of late, ultra narrow-row cotton. What kind of impact has that had?
Narrow-row cotton is planting cotton in rows 30 inches apart instead of the 40-inch spacing used since the days cotton was cultivated with mules. Huge departure, but one that caught on very quickly and is now widely practiced not only in California, but also throughout the U.S. and the world.
Weir will be the first to acknowledge that he did not single handedly research and develop the technology necessary for such a change. It was a team effort that included fellow UC farm advisors and specialists working with farmers to develop the necessary techniques and machinery to farm cotton like it had never been produced before.
Reducing row spacing increases yields by an average of 5 percent, the team discovered. That represents $50 per acre in additional income. This year 225,000 acres of SJV cotton is growing in 30-inch rows. Narrow-row cotton this year alone and only in the San Joaquin Valley will result, conservatively, in more than $11 million in farmer income that would not be there without the science developed by people like Weir.
That is truly just a small example of the return on investment that comes from the efforts of men and women in UC and UA Cooperative Extension and other ag divisions of the two universities.
Western agriculture is envied and respected the world over. It is unparalleled in food and fiber production, largely due to the work of women and men like Bill Weir. Enjoy our retirement Dr. Weir, and know that agriculture thanks you and you peers who have and are making a monumental difference in feeding and clothing the world and maintaining Western agriculture's viability in these challenging times.