Jun 19, 2015
Maxwell Norton, director of UCCE in Merced County, to retire after 36 years

Maxwell Norton, UC Cooperative Extension director and advisor in Merced and Mariposa counties, plans to retire on July 1. Norton, who specializes in tree fruit, grapes and farmland preservation, has served Merced County growers for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources for 36 years.

Norton is “probably the kind of person everyone would like to know – a kind and gentle soul who exudes knowledge and wisdom,”said Bill Martin, executive director of Central Valley Farmland Trust.

For the past 10 years, Martin has worked on conserving farmland with Norton, who was a founding member of the Merced County Farmland and Open Space Trust, which merged with two other land trusts to become Central Valley Farmland Trust.

“He has an understanding of the landscape that is greatly appreciated,”Martin said. “He’s very low-key, observant and provides timely input on provocative issues that come up at board meetings.”

Raised on a farm near Salida, north of Modesto, Norton studied pomology at Fresno State University, earning a B.S. and an M.S. in plant science before joining UC Cooperative Extension.

“When I started in 1979, there was rapid growth of two new industries – kiwifruit and Asian pears,”Norton said. “I conducted some early research trials on kiwifruit and authored a chapter of the new UC Cooperative Extension production manual for kiwifruit. I also spent a lot of time diagnosing Asian pear problems.”

Early in Norton’s career, UC scientists introduced a device for measuring soil moisture called a neutron probe. The young advisor tested the device in peach orchards on clay-loam soils, attempting to correlate the probe, gypsum blocks, tensiometers and pressure chamber data.

“All of these tools were relatively new then,”said Norton. “Mid-day values had not been established yet so data collection entailed going out at 3 a.m. to pick leaves and measure the leaf water potential while crouching in the back seat of my government-issued Plymouth Fury.”

Off the farm, Norton has been active in community development, organizing workshops for farmers on how to export their products, chairing the Merced County Economic Development Task Force twice and serving twice as president of the county’s Chamber of Commerce.

“My favorite part of the job has always been doing farm calls, where I went out and visited growers and diagnosed problems, explaining the nature of the problem, and most importantly, suggest things to try,”Norton said.

In retirement, Norton plans on playing his tenor and bari sax in jazz bands, training UC Master Gardeners and volunteering with the local historical society and other organizations. He has also been granted emeritus status by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.





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