Steve Sibbett, the University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Tulare County, retired Feb. 1 after a 35-year career managing a distinguished research and education program in nut crops, prunes, olives, apples and pears.
“It's been a good run,” Sibbett said. “I've truly enjoyed the growers I've worked with, especially those that offered their farms for local research projects.”
Research was the hallmark of Sibbett's career, and he acknowledges he couldn't have done it without the support of Tulare County farmers.
“Some of the best research cooperators in California are in Tulare County. The rest of the state benefits from their commitment to improve crop production and quality,” Sibbett said.
During his career, Sibbett's program focused on understanding the needs of growers, setting his research and educational priorities, and developing teams to resolve grower needs. He designed a teaching program to extend scientific solutions to farmers and encourage the adoption of new technologies. Sibbett conceived the first UC Cooperative Extension short courses - in-depth sessions that cover many aspects related to production of a single commodity - initiating an educational method that is now a Cooperative Extension mainstay.
His program has made a significant difference in the success of Tulare County farmers. For example, Tulare County was once considered a district that produced heavy crops of small-sized prunes. Sibbett developed pruning, thinning, bee management and harvest guidelines that resulted in solid crops of high-quality, good-sized prunes.
Sibbett also had a major impact on the establishment of California's pecan industry. He conducted research to determine the nut's viability as a crop in the state. Now, 3,500 acres of pecans are grown commercially in California.
More recently, Sibbett determined optimal harvest guidelines for olive growers to maximize production and value, guidelines that can add $1,500 per acre to olive grower's profits. Sibbett crafted cold storage guidelines for French prunes to spread out dehydration capacity and developed techniques to “field size” fresh prunes so worthless fruit could be discarded in the field before costly processing.
Even though Sibbett said he looks forward to having the time and flexibility during his retirement to pursue his hobbies - especially fishing - he won't close the door on his agricultural research program just yet. Sibbett plans to finish a new olive manual and complete research projects that he has under way.