Jul 2, 2012
Bill Shoemaker retiring from University of Illinois

When Bill Shoemaker was finishing his degree at the University of Illinois, he intended to become a full-time grower. His instructors, however, pushed him to apply for a job that had come open. He applied and was hired as the superintendent and senior research specialist at the University of Illinois St. Charles Horticultural Research Center. He enjoyed the field work, and a job he wasn’t sure he wanted soon became his career, he said.

Now he’s retiring after 30 years of service.

“Working with the farm communities, being someone who helps them through outreach – there has been a lot of personal reward,” he said.

Shoemaker is currently the regional viticulture specialist for the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. He conducts work in grape breeding, evaluating cultivars for winter hardiness and investigating IPM and training systems for wine production and also has worked with the state’s master gardener program in pumpkin production.

Shoemaker said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to travel all over the country and the state, visiting farms and getting to know other farmers.

“I’ve learned a lot about our country,” he said. “The best part is being able to work in an area I love, doing the type of work I love. Agriculture is an amazing industry.”

And sometimes, it’s a tough industry. This year’s warm spring and late freezes created dysfunction in the crops, he said. And now, water has become a real concern.

“Some crops are way ahead, yet some are behind because it was cold late,” he said.

Fruit crops were hurt, but grapes are recovering nicely. Some of the tree fruit was lost, but there will be enough, he said.

Vegetable growers are worried about water use, too.

“I don’t remember there ever being this intense of a drought this early in the season,” Shoemaker said. “There is not much moisture in the top 4 inches of soil.”

His plan after officially retiring is to stay right where he is, for a time. He plans to stay involved to see that all of the research continues without any problems until the university can hire a replacement, he said.

Beyond that, Shoemaker plans to look into consulting and producing and wants to continue his grape breeding projects, but as a private grower. He is also considering additional projects with his sons.

One thing is sure, though. He will be actively involved in agriculture.

“I don’t see how I would have succeeded in a desk job,” he said. “I love being out in the middle of it and being hands on far too much to want to be inside all the time.”

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

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