This unfortunate trend goes beyond farm advisors. For instance, two of the industry’s entomologists and one extension nematologist have recently retired, and an Extension plant pathologist position has been vacant for a number of years. All this leaves major gaps in the maintenance and further development of integrated pest management in almonds.

Over the last 20 years, continuing cuts in public funding for agricultural research are having a significant impact on the pool of skilled researchers available to carry out research projects funded through soft money grants. At UC Agricultural and Natural Resources (ANR) division, there has been a 40 percent decline in the number of “boots on the ground” Extension specialists and farm advisors from a peak of 300 farm advisors and 200 specialists in 1990 to 200 advisors and 100 specialists today. Within the next decade, fully half of the current ANR members will retire.

Faculty Retirement

During that same period, the number of faculty research positions at UC and CSU campuses has also declined. At UC Davis, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences faculty positions have declined 25 percent since 1990, and another 50 percent of faculty is expected to retire within the next decade. Colleges at other UC campuses at Berkeley and Riverside have also taken significant cuts.

Reduced federal spending for USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) last year eliminated funds for some 120 ARS scientists and staff overnight; 10 research stations and programs closed in 2011. More than 200 USDA staff and researchers accepted early retirement offers in 2011, and for every three positions that retire only one new position is expected to be refilled.

For more, see: USDA shutdown of 259 offices stirs call for congressional action

This is a startling level of attrition along the research continuum, but especially on the applied research and Extension side. All of these cuts are creating a drain on the research talent and facilities needed to carry out even basic research, much less move that research out of the laboratory and greenhouse and into the field.

The impact of these cuts in public investment is already being felt. Economists have documented a disturbing link between reduced public spending on agricultural research and Extension and a slowdown in U.S. agricultural productivity growth. In traveling the world, it is clear to see that this unique system of public and private research has contributed significantly to making California growers sustainable and competitive in the global market.

As these permanent budget cuts continue, private industry must be involved in securing research capacity at the basic and applied level to ensure California growers maintain their competitive edge.

The Almond Board is currently engaged in prioritizing research needs for the industry into the future and exploring ways to support research capacity through public and private partnerships.