University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor Wilbur Reil retired in March after providing research information on walnut, almond, prune, grape and pear production to Sacramento Valley farmers for 34 years.
Reil was raised on a family tree-fruit farm in Oroville, Calif. He said he began helping out on the 100-acre operation as soon as he could walk, and by age 10, he was pitching in meaningfully.
“I worked there all during high school and college. I enjoyed the work and enjoyed the lifestyle,” he said.
Reil earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural production in 1961 and a master's degree in horticulture in 1974 at UC Davis.
In 1970, Reil took his first position with UC Cooperative Extension as a staff research associate, eventually working alongside specialists in pomology, plant pathology and entomology on primarily pear, almond and walnut research projects. Reil's work in pears at that time led to the introduction of a control measure for pear decline disease. The scientists found that tetracycline pressure injected into the trees' tissue enabled farmers with established pear orchards to maintain production. The practice was widely adopted in commercial orchards.
Reil took the position as tree crops farm advisor for Yolo and Solano counties in 1983. An important accomplishment of Reil's career was development of a growing method that allows walnut farmers to harvest a crop one to three years earlier than in a typical new walnut orchard. The system involves planting a higher number of trees in hedgerows. In addition to earlier harvest, the hedgerow planting allows for mechanical pruning, which offers significant cost savings over hand pruning.
Reil said his work, like that of his Cooperative Extension colleagues, evolved during his 34-year career to meet the needs of a changing agricultural industry.
“Years ago, farmers were sharp individuals, but not many were college graduates. Farmers used to be the ones driving the tractors and working in the fields,” Reil said. “Today, farmers are highly technical and skilled. They need very technical information. So we as farm advisors are moving into more technical aspects of agricultural production.”
Over his career, Reil authored or co-authored 140 scientific articles, sent out 300 newsletters, conducted 20 research trials a year and made more than 700 presentations at meetings. In 2000, he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Solano County Farm Bureau.
Reil retires to his bucolic 16-acre home site in Yolo County. He doesn't intend to farm, he said, but has many projects to fill his time. Among these are the antique engines and farm equipment that he collects, restores and displays at local fairs. Reil said he also looks forward to traveling with his wife throughout the western United States to see the natural wonders that he was too busy to visit during his career.