On May 26, the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center near Parlier will mark the 40th anniversary of its dedication. On that date in 1965, several hundred farmers, farm advisors, specialists and UC administrators gathered to usher in a new era in Central California agricultural research.

"I think we can say without quibble that this capital investment will be repaid many times over," said UC Dean of Agriculture Maurice L. Peterson, according to a story in the Fresno Bee.

Those prophetic words reflect the foresight of growers in the San Joaquin Valley who established the Fruit and Grape Station Trust to raise funds for the future research center. Kearney has become the most utilized off-campus agricultural research facility in the UC system. Twenty-four resident faculty conduct basic and field studies in 33 specialized laboratories and on 260 acres of controlled research orchards and vineyards.

The station also serves as a research and extension facility to more than 100 off-station scientists from three UC campuses and a dozen Cooperative Extension offices. Almost a mini-campus, Kearney houses a new state-of-the-art greenhouse, a postharvest laboratory, a mosquito control laboratory, multiple insectaries and academic and administrative offices.

KREC scientists have developed novel cultivation, pruning and planting methods for the major valley crops, at the same time introducing newer specialty crops like blueberries and Asian eggplant. Kearney has also been one of the chief testing grounds for sustainable farming methods, such as integrated pest management, biological control, water conservation and nitrogen management.

"As growers, we are dealing with new invasive pests, clean air and water regulations, the need to reduce labor costs, and the search for alternatives to methyl bromide," says Bill Chandler, who farms in the Selma area and is active in KREC committees. "Along with the first-rate facilities at Kearney, there are excellent people with whom I consult often. We look to Kearney for sound science to help agriculture grow and thrive."

Recognized problems

In the 1960s, San Joaquin Valley agriculturists knew that agricultural problems peculiar to the valley – such as alkali soils, pests and diseases and irrigation management – could "tarnish the bright potential of this unique farming area," according to noted banker and agricultural economist Jesse Tapp, as quoted in the June 2, 1965, edition of the Reedley Exponent.

Kearney superintendent Fred Swanson credits Tapp and other mid-century valley agriculturists for understanding that investing in regional agricultural infrastructure would reap great rewards.

"These visionaries knew that the valley was a unique production area and that agricultural research needed to be local, relevant and accessible," Swanson said.

The Fruit and Grape Station Trust, led by the Fresno County Farm Bureau, collected donations from farmers and the ag industry. More than 250 contributors made gifts ranging from $2 to $10,000 that amounted to $139,000. The donations were matched by the Kearney Foundation of Soil Science, which was established when the university sold the 5,400-acre estate of M. Theodore Kearney. Kearney, a prominent turn-of-the-century Fresno County developer, had bequeathed his estate to the University of California to support research on soils, plant nutrition and water science.

"With the development of the Kearney station, we can now carry on research within the San Joaquin Valley itself in all the fields which the growers told us in the late 1950s were critical," Peterson said in the June 2, 1965, Reedley Exponent article about the Kearney dedication. "It is a measure not only of the University’s real interest but also of the outstanding cooperation we have received from San Joaquin Valley agriculture that in such a short period we have been able to establish (Kearney)."

Special issue

The anniversary of the dedication will be marked with the publication of a special issue of California Agriculture magazine focused exclusively on the research and accomplishments at Kearney. The expanded, 96-page magazine includes peer-reviewed research reports and research updates. The magazine will be posted online at http://calag.ucop.edu. A printed copy may be ordered by e-mailing calag@ucop.edu, writing 1111 Franklin St., 6th floor, Oakland, CA 94607, calling (510) 987-0044 or faxing (510) 465-2659. Single copies are free.

The Kearney Research and Extension Center is at 9240 S. Riverbend Ave., off Manning Avenue between Parlier and Reedley, in Fresno County. The center’s Web site is http://www.uckac.edu.