Eight long-time UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center employees - with experience and institutional knowledge from a combined 238 years of service - retired today.
About 100 current and retired Kearney staff and academics gathered in the center's multi-purpose room to see them off. The retirees are:
Walt Bentley, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, Integrated Pest Management entomology, 36 years
Diana Bulls, administrative assistant, 20 years
Sal Garcia, assistant custodial supervisor, 21 years
Kathy Montanez, financial services manager, Business Operations Center - Kearney, 29 years
Lois Strole, administrative assistant, 18 years
Charlie Summers, research entomologist, UC Davis Department of Entomology, 42 years
Two retirees were not able to attend the celebration:
Mike McKenry, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, UC Riverside Department of Nematology, 40 years
Stephanie Kaku, staff research associate, 32 years
“I started and just kept going,” said Charlie Summers, a research entomologist who was first affiliated with UC Berkeley and later affiliated with UC Davis. Summers ends a 42-year stretch at Kearney when he retires June 30.
Summers grew up on a family farm in Utah and always knew he wanted a career in agriculture. He said he decided at age 12 to go to college, “when I was at the wrong end of a short-handled hoe.”
Summers earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology and entomology respectively at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, and a doctorate degree in entomology at Cornell in 1970, the same year he started at Kearney.
“The job at Kearney was an absolutely perfect fit for me,” Summers said. “It was a dream job. I look forward to coming to work every morning and would sometimes shake my fist at the sun going down at night. I’ve loved every minute I’ve been here.”
Summers studied a wide range of pest problems in field and vegetable crops. He developed economic thresholds for more than a dozen pests and management strategies for equally as many crops. Among the most challenging pests was the alfalfa weevil, he said. It has been particularly unresponsive to biological control and host plant resistance.
“It is one of the insects that has defied everything we’ve thrown at it except pesticides,” Summers said.
Silverleaf whitefly also posed a tremendous challenge during his career. Silverleaf whitefly was first found in the United States in Florida poinsettia crops during the mid-1980s. Eventually it made its way to a wide range of crops in California, resulting in severe economic losses to growers. Heavy applications of traditional chemicals needed to control the pest caused growers’ costs to increase. The production of some crops ceased altogether because of the extent of silverleaf whitefly damage.
In time, Summers and his colleagues developed a protocol for monitoring and managing the silverleaf whitefly. Light populations are controlled by native and introduced parasites and predators. More severe infestations must still be treated with pesticides.
Another major challenge was the corn leafhopper. The pest first made its way to California in the early 1940s, but didn’t become a serious problem until the end of the 1990s, when it was found to transmit corn stunt disease.
“Corn stunt disease caused plants to form few or no ears of corn. Some farmers’ yields were cut in half,” Summers said. “We worked out a strategy for scheduling planting to avoid the most serious damage. That’s worked out well for growers.”
Crops grown on silver mulch produced significantly higher yields of marketable fruit than did those grown on bare soil, the researchers concluded. Reflective mulch has been used by organic and conventional farmers up and down the valley and in Southern California to grow vegetables. Home gardeners have also applied these research results to garden beds by using aluminum foil as mulch.
Although Summers did not technically have an extension component to his position – he was among the last scientists hired to devote 100 percent of their time to research – Summers made it a point to work closely with farm advisors and specialists to convey research results to farmers.
“Extension work has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done,” he said. “I’ve worked with farm advisors on research projects, farm calls and given hundreds and hundreds of extension talks at their grower meetings.”
Summers has also authored more than 200 articles, book chapters and research papers, most of them peer reviewed.
Over the years, Summers said, the objective of his job – to help farmers develop successful pest management strategies – stayed the same, but technological advances dramatically changed the way he did his work.
“We’ve had the advent of computer technology, the use of mathematical models, work that can now be done at the DNA level. It’s put a whole new face on our ability to do research,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said, nothing can replace what he considers the essence of the experiment station model: to personally assist growers.
“To me that’s the most important job we performed,” Summers said. “I hope this work continues.”
In retirement, Summers plans to move back to Utah to live near his sister and nephews and spend time pursuing his favorite pastime, fly fishing.
“I’ll be living 15 minutes from the Wasatch Mountains,” Summers said. “There’s a lot of good fishing there.”
A highly regarded member of UC’s regional integrated pest management team at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, entomologist Walter Bentley retires June 30.
Bentley transferred to Kearney in 1994 after 17 years as a UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Kern County, specializing in entomology. The integrated pest management team – with advisors representing the core pest management disciplines, entomology, nematology, weed science and plant pathology – was formed in response to concern about the effect of pesticides on food safety, the environment and farmworker safety.
Bentley’s career success is demonstrated by the numerous awards he received in the past year. A group of world IPM leaders presented Bentley with its Lifetime Achievement Award March 27 at the 7th International IPM Symposium in Memphis, Tenn. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Association of Applied IPM Ecologists in February. In October 2011, Bentley received the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension.
Bentley grew up on his family’s cherry, walnut and peach farm in Linden, Calif. He began laboring in the orchards as a young boy, but the hard work didn’t deter him from pursuing a career in agriculture.
“Growing up on a farm is probably the best life a youngster can have,” Bentley said. “But I can’t say that it was easy for my parents. It was a struggle for them to raise a family and depend solely on income from the farm.”
Bentley earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and biology in 1969 at Fresno State, and then spent two years in the U.S. Army working on tracing mosquito movement in the 4th Army area of Texas and Oklahoma and later in Utah. He earned a master’s degree in entomology in 1974 at Colorado State University. Bentley worked in biological pest control for the Colorado Department of Agriculture before returning to his native California for the UC Cooperative Extension position in Bakersfield.
“I had heard many rumors about how tough Bakersfield was in terms of weather and environment. Within two weeks of starting the job, there was a huge dust and wind storm in the area and the first summer we had 30 days in a row with the temperature 100 degrees or higher,” Bentley said. “But I came to enjoy Bakersfield.”
As the Kern County farm advisor, Bentley worked with his colleagues to develop an IPM program for almonds, addressing primarily problems with spider mites, navel orange worms and ants. Also working with colleagues, he developed an IPM program for potatoes, emphasizing careful monitoring for potato tuber moth and postponing pesticide treatment until the pest reached a level at which economic damage occurs.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, however, was the relationship he cultivated with growers and pest control advisers in Kern County. In particular, Bentley worked closely with pioneer Bakersfield apple grower Lewis Sherrill to combat the problem of coddling moth in apples. Sherrill started his own farm at age 76 and continued farming until he was nearly 100 years old.
“Apple farmers in Kern County were relying on information from Washington state, where a large part of the U.S. apple industry is located,” Bentley said. “But in Washington, coddling moth only produces two generations in the summer. In Kern County, we had four. Lou and I analyzed coddling moth flight dynamics, integration of materials and we began experimenting with mating disruption.”
At Kearney, Bentley continued his work on apples and almonds, plus he began to work extensively in grapes. Mealybug management in grapes, he said, became the most important and impactful part of his job. Bentley also played a role in developing a management plan to control katydid damage in peaches and helped farmers use mating disruption against Oriental fruit moth in peaches.
“In my generation as an entomologist, a major breakthrough was the development and use of pheromones for ag pest monitoring and management,” Bentley said. “We found ways to use pests’ own biology against them.”
During his 36-year career, Bentley authored 65 chapters or sections in pest management manuals and 75 peer-reviewed articles. In addition, he wrote more than 250 articles for trade journals and newspapers.
"Mr. Bentley's career represents the best UCCE's faculty has to offer, “ said his IPM colleague, Pete Goodell, UC Cooperative Extension advisor based at Kearney. “Unselfish service, loyalty to his peers and clientele, intellectual honesty, dedication to the mission of UCCE and a genuine love for his work.”
Bentley credits the success of his program to the UC Cooperative Extension research and education continuum, which is designed to foster communication and collaboration from campus laboratories to farm fields and back again.
“I think this is one of the best educational programs in the world,” Bentley said. “We take information from UC campuses to the farms. And those of us who work with farmers bring first-hand experiences back to the campus and work with scientists to develop solutions.”
Bentley’s personal interest in insects, which got him into his line of work, will carry through into his retirement. One of his goals, he said, is building a teaching collection of insects, spiders, mites and other arthropods at Kearney. He has already acquired some of the equipment needed to house the collection and plans to maintain some samples on pinned displays and others in live colonies. The collection will be a learning tool for farmers, pest control advisers, students and interns.
“Knowing what’s out there is an important part of understanding entomological science,” Bentley said.
Insects are also a part of his favorite pastime, fly fishing. Bentley said retirement will give him more time to spend on local rivers catching (and releasing) trout with his hand-tied flies. Bentley speaks passionately about the joy of fly fishing.
“There’s a pulse that runs through you. It feels like you’re a child on Christmas every time the fish hits the fly,” Bentley said. “It’s such a thrill.”
McKenry was born in Selma and raised on a farm where his family produced fruits and vegetables for sale at Highway 99 fruit stands. He earned his degree in soil science with a biochemistry minor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 1966, where his senior project targeted the microscopic soil-borne true round worms that would shape his career.
“Very few farmers knew much about nematodes at the time,” McKenry said. However, the pest was causing serious damage and yield loss, especially when crops were replanted into previously farmed land.
After serving as a vocational agriculture teacher in Yucaipa, Calif., and conducting field trials with his students, McKenry was offered the opportunity to study nematodes at UC Riverside. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1972 and was soon appointed by UC Riverside to his nematology research position at Kearney.
McKenry said his research focus changed with the times. The first two decades, he studied the movement of fumigants and other pesticides in soil, and the timing and placement for nematode congregation under trees and vines. Equally important were his activities to develop newer methods to assure that California’s nursery stocks would remain nematode-free.
“As drip systems evolved we encouraged farmers to pay more attention to the root flush in order to be more efficient with whatever treatments they used,” McKenry said.
Increasingly stringent regulations and bans on the use of certain fumigants began to turn nematologists’ attention to reduced rates using timing and placement as well as botanically derived alternatives to synthetic products. McKenry noted an unreported biological control process underway at Kearney where certain naturally occurring fungi and bacteria were lethal to nematodes.
“We’ve been working on that for 40 years,” McKenry said. “We’re still missing pieces, but the potential and limitations are better understood.”
During this period, McKenry also developed a portable drenching system that reduced off-gassing of soil fumigants and led the way for pre-plant delivery of degradable nematicides deep into soil.
The next 20 years was the period of rootstock exploration. Grape rootstocks that had been released in the 1960s were losing their resistance to nematodes in the 1980s. McKenry and his staff evaluated as many as 1,000 potential grape rootstocks from around the world. This was followed by evaluation of 100 peach and almond rootstocks and then thousands of potential walnut rootstocks.
Over the last two decades, McKenry’s nematological expertise provided industry awareness of three grape rootstocks, RS-9, RS-3 and 10-17A; three fruit/nut rootstocks including Krymsk 1, specifically useful for dwarf plum trees; HBOK-1 and Hansen 536, for peach and almond orchards, plus a new walnut rootstock named VX211. In addition to durable nematode resistance with these rootstocks, some may be planted without soil fumigation. If some fumigation was necessary, he demonstrated how a portable boiler could provide adequate steam to give first-year nematode relief.
More recently, McKenry identified the first effective nematode treatment that in very low doses could be sprayed onto leaves of trees and vines. This new chemistry was hidden away as an insecticide. Thousands of soil samples evaluated by McKenry and his research team at UC reported that if farmers followed a few guidelines, their yields could be boosted 10 percent to 20 percent.
In all, McKenry has written more than 250 research papers, half of them in pest management manuals, the other half peer-reviewed conference proceedings, book chapters and research journals.
Even though he will retire this summer, McKenry said he plans to continue with a few special projects.
“There is so much yet to be done,” he said.
He said he also looks forward to having more time to spend at his home in Cayucos while continuing his worldwide travels.
The Kearney community marked the retirement of its long-time computer programmer John Rassmussen today. John came to Kearney shortly after graduating from college to manage a brand new integrated pest management outreach system located at the field station. In 1981, IPM was delving into computer communications by offering a weather database, news features and pest management guidelines that could be read on terminals at UC Cooperative Extension county offices.
The computer at Kearney - with its 96 megabyte hard drive and one-quarter megabyte internal memory - cost $125,000, John said. It was connected to terminals in Bakersfield, Visalia, Shafter and Fresno via dedicated phone lines.
Over the years, as technology advanced, John became the self-taught network administrator and computer support professional for the scientists and staff at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. An avid outdoorsman, John plans to spend more time hiking, caving, mountaineering and endurance running during retirement.