West Coast Nut magazine presented its first ever West Coast Nut Industry Titan Award at this year’s California Tree Nut Conference to Franz Niederholzer, UCCE farm advisor in Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties and research coordinator of the Nickels Soil Lab in Arbuckle, Calif.
This new annual award recognizes a researcher, farm advisor, grower or industry leader who has made significant contributions to the production of almonds, walnuts, pistachios and pecans in the Western U.S.
- Nominees are assessed based on a matrix of the following criteria:
- How the honoree’s research, innovation and field work have advanced nut production in the Western U.S.
- How the honoree has transferred new information to nut growers through field days, magazine articles, presentations and other vehicles of communication or through other significant industry leadership.
- How the honoree’s work has helped develop practical, long-term solutions to ongoing industry problems.
- How the honoree has helped advance sustainable nut production by reducing inputs, costs or increasing yields.
“These nominees are often the unsung heroes in the nut industry, and West Coast Nut wanted to find a way to recognize the important contributions and achievements of these industry titans,” said West Coast Nut Publisher Jason Scott. “Franz was the ideal of what we are looking for in an individual to receive this award.”
In addition to answering farm calls, Niederholzer also works tirelessly behind the scenes as research coordinator of the Nickels Soil Lab and as acting county director in Colusa County, a thankless but important job.
He grew up in the Bay Area but moved just out of high school to the Chico area when his parents bought a prune orchard. As new farmers, and members of the Sunsweet coop, Franz learned early on the value of cooperative minded farming, and this influenced his decision to go into UC Extension and pay the lessons forward that he learned from his many mentors.
“We found ourselves in a community of growers that were very supportive,” Niederholzer recalled. He says helping those growers be successful remains his primary focus.
“Growers and the people who help them make decisions on the farm are my clientele,” he said. “I do some writing with my peers, but really my job is to help growers stay successful. That’s important for the local economy and that’s why we [cooperative extension] are here.”
Niederholzer’s early exposure to farming carried over into his young adult life.
“As a kid growing up trying to think what to do with myself, the satisfaction at harvest of growing something people are going to use really made an impression on me.”
He received an undergraduate degree in history but turned his attention to soils and orchard nutrient management, ultimately receiving his Ph.D. in pomology from UC Davis. His first job in extension was as a county extension advisor on pears and apples in Oregon.
After a stint in the private sector, Niederholzer became farm advisor for prunes and almonds in Yuba County in 2002. When then farm advisor John Edstrom retired in Colusa County, he assumed those responsibilities as well and also took over as research coordinator with the Nickels Soil Lab. His colleague Luke Milliron, a fellow UCCE farm advisor in the North Valley, said Niederholzer’s efforts to make Nickels a powerhouse for practical research in almonds and walnuts is “a massive and important” contribution to the industry.
Milliron also cited Niederholzer’s work on spray technology as an important contribution to the nut industry.
“He’s tackled something that is not sexy but is so important to everyday farming operations and improving spray efficacy and reducing drift,” Milliron said.
And Milliron credited Niederholzer with mentoring and passing on decades of knowledge as a farm advisor to a new generation of farm advisors.