Rachel Elkins, University of California Cooperative Extension pomology farm advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties, retired July 1 after 33 years in her position.
“Rachel has been invaluable to the pear industry in Mendocino and Lake counties,” Bob McClain, the California Pear Advisory Board’s field and research director, said in a news release.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in international studies at University of the Pacific and a bachelor’s degree in agricultural pest management at the University of California-Berkeley, Elkins interned with the cooperative extension’s integrated pest management advisor, Bill Barnett, in Fresno County in 1982.
Elkins then earned two master’s degrees, in pomology and plant protection and pest management at the UC-Davis campus, before joining the cooperative extension as a farm advisor intern in 1986. She was hired as a farm advisor in Lake and Mendocino counties in 1987.
“I began with zero knowledge about pear production, my main assigned crop,” Elkins said in the release. “From this beginning, I dived in; I am still learning every day.”
She co-edited and co-authored several handbooks and journal articles for pear production, handling and integrated pest management.
In 1996, Elkins helped control codling moth populations by interfering with the insect’s sex life instead of using insecticides by introducing the pheromone “puffer,” which confuses male moths seeking mates.
A 2003 University of California cost study showed that the pheromone puffers saved growers $9 per ton or nearly $200 per acre, based on 20 tons per acre. The cost savings came from reduced insecticide use — due to fewer outbreaks of secondary pests such as mites and pear psylla — and less need to operate spray equipment, which was becoming increasingly expensive.
The project won the 2000 Integrated Pest Management Innovator Award and is used on almost all Lake County pear acreage.
The success in pears led to its use in apple and walnut orchards.
In 2002, Elkins was named Agriculture Person of the Year by the Lake County Farm Bureau.
Elkins has also worked with growers on more than 25 fruit and nut crops, mainly walnuts, but also apples and kiwifruit.
In 2015, she received the American Society for Horticultural Science award for Outstanding Extension Education Materials for producing the video, “Budding, Grafting and Planting Walnut Trees in the Field.”
In 1993, she started the University of California Master Gardeners Program in Lake County.
Elkins has served as Lake County extension director from 2002 to 2006 and again from 2018 to today.
Granted emeritus status, Elkins will continue ongoing research trials by working part-time, funded by the California Pear Advisory Board and Pear Pest Management Research Fund.