Merced County UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Lonnie Hendricks retired last fall after devoting 41 years to the improvement of almond, walnut, pistachio, and apricot production in the San Joaquin Valley.

Raised in Placerville, the son of a farmer, Hendricks expected to follow in his father's footsteps when he leased a pear orchard right out of college. However, when pear decline afflicted the trees, decimating orchards in the Placerville area, Hendricks decided to look elsewhere for work in agriculture.

In 1960, he started with UCCE as a trainee to a Stanislaus County farm advisor and three months later moved to Merced County to fill in for a farm advisor on sabbatical. Hendricks was soon named to a permanent position. During the ensuing 40 years, he saw dramatic changes in the Merced County nut industry.

“Almonds were commonly knocked off with mallets, hand raked, and then scooped up with wire-mesh scoop shovels,” Hendricks said. “Walnuts were picked off the ground by hand into buckets and transported in burlap bags.”

Today, all commercial almonds and walnuts are mechanically shaken from trees and swept up from orchard floors with sophisticated equipment.