It's been 30 years since John Pehrson retired as a University of California Cooperative Extension citrus specialist, but he left such a lasting impression on the citrus industry that his work is still revered today.
Regarded as a model Cooperative Extension advisor, Pehrson was gifted at translating UC research and offering practical solutions to help growers better manage their resources and improve citrus yields during his 38-year UC career.
Pehrson is an “encyclopedia of practical and scientific knowledge about citrus,” said Beth Grafton-Cardwell, emeritus UC Cooperative Extension citrus specialist and a former colleague of Pehrson. “He developed expertise not only in soils, but also rootstocks, citrus fertility, irrigation and entomology.”
To honor Pehrson's contributions to the citrus industry, growers and associated industry members gathered at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center on Oct. 16 to dedicate the center's administration building as “John E. Pehrson Hall.”
The 94-year-old Pehrson, who attended the event with his proud family, said he was always eager to go to work as a UCCE citrus advisor and specialist, “and I want you all to know that I appreciated the help I had in both the University community and with the industry, and with you growers that are here tonight to recognize me.”
Pehrson joined UC Cooperative Extension as a farm advisor in 1953 for Orange County, moved to UCCE in Tulare County as a citrus advisor in 1966, then became a UCCE subtropical horticultural specialist at Kearney Research and Extension Center in 1980, and transferred in 1982 to Lindcove REC, where he worked until his retirement in 1991.
“I think of Lindcove and ag extension, and all of us who are lucky enough to be in this industry for all these years, you have to think of John Pehrson, because he was such a big part of our success as growers,” said citrus grower Tom Dungan. “When you walked the orchard with John, and I did often, I had all kinds of problems…by the time you were finished walking the orchard, you not only had the original problem that you were trying to solve, but you had about seven others and he wasn't afraid to tell you how to solve them. And sometimes you didn't want to hear that.”
Loved to help
“He loved to come out and help you with your problems, talk about a dedicated guy, I've never known anyone in the industry that was as dedicated as John Pehrson,” Dungan said.
In 1994, the California Citrus Quality Council presented Pehrson with the industry's most prestigious prize, the Albert G. Salter Memorial Award.
“John was an excellent farm advisor and horticultural specialist because he would study the groves, study the literature, run experiments in the San Joaquin Valley and collaborate with other researchers,” said Grafton-Cardwell. “But he also highly respected the practical knowledge of the growers and worked with early adapters of new technologies, helping to advance them.”
In addition to growers, Pehrson's UC colleagues also benefited from his knowledge and concern for the industry, Grafton-Cardwell said. “I was one of them, as I came on board in 1990 a year before John retired. John saw that I was new to citrus and took me under his wing and said, ‘Let's conduct a field experiment.'”
When Lindcove Research and Extension Center started a fundraising campaign, several donors identified the building dedication as an opportunity to support research while also paying tribute to Pehrson, said Grafton-Cardwell, a past director of the center.
“I am honored to have my work recognized in this fashion,” said Pehrson, who currently resides in Claremont in Southern California. “I wish to say that I enjoyed my life as a farm advisor, I really did. I would call it a life of purpose.”
Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources, thanked guests for raising over $100,000 to name the building “John E.Pehrson Hall,” saying, “By honoring John and recognizing his accomplishments, you have also invested in supporting the next generation of researchers, allowing us to continue to explore, experiment and develop practical solutions through applied research.”