Banking on Conservation

Retired banker and walnut farmer Allen Hackett establishes endowed scholarship

After spending 35 years in the agricultural lending business and another 25 years as a walnut farmer, Allen Hackett (M.S. ’66 agricultural economics) knows a thing or two about investing in the land.

Hackett recently established an endowed scholarship at UC Davis to support undergraduates studying in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology (WFCB) with an interest in wildlife habitat conservation and restoration. He is committed to a holistic view of farming and its integration with the surrounding environment.

“I wanted to support UC Davis somehow,” said Hackett, who is a board member with a conservation organization called River Partners. The nonprofit has restored riparian habitat on more than 11,000 acres along rivers throughout California and neighboring states.

Hackett met with WFCB Professor Emeritus Peter Moyle, who was instrumental in the development of a plan to restore the San Joaquin River. River Partners uses a combination of farming practices and scientific habitat planning to achieve its restoration objectives, so this was a good fit with his philanthropic goal to support students interested in this type of conservation work.

A solid foundation

Hackett says UC Davis equipped him well for a rewarding and sometimes challenging career. After earning his master’s degree, he went to work for agricultural lenders throughout California doing field inspections and other activities involved in making production loans. But trouble was brewing in those days with a farm credit crisis looming.

“The reason I went into banking was because I thought it was a nice, stable profession,” Hackett said. “The minute I got into it, all of that changed. Turmoil became the one thing that was part of my career.”

The backbone of their business, cattle loans, fizzled out.  “All of a sudden we had a situation where you didn’t need loan officers anymore because they weren’t making cattle loans.”

Hackett’s agricultural economics studies at UC Davis helped him make sense of those tumultuous times. “I drew on my education constantly for interpreting what was happening,” he said. “There are certain economic principles that apply to an agricultural situation. It gave me a frame of reference.”

Good timing and flexibility

At age 60, Hackett retired from banking and began a new career. He and his late wife, Nancy, sold their house in Davis, moved north to Butte County and started a walnut farm. When they planted their orchard, walnuts sold for 50 cents a pound, but by the time their walnuts matured the popular nuts were selling for $2 a pound. “That made me look like a real hero the way it came out,” he said. “But my timing was good. My whole life I’ve been lucky with timing.”

What career advice does Hackett have for students? “You have to be adaptable—probably more so today than ever before,” he said. “You need to be able to recognize changing situations because that’s what really happens. You get out there and your preconceived notions about what you’re going to be doing and how you’re going to be doing it are always subject to change—sometimes quickly, sometimes not so quickly.”

The long view

Hackett believes the work of people like Moyle, and conservation-minded WFCB students are essential to help reverse decades of riverbank degradation. These areas provide critical fish and wildlife habitat.

“The payoff in environmental restoration is not tangible in dollars,” Hackett said. “But it is tangible from the standpoint of what California will look like 500 years from now. What we’re doing on the rivers, what we’re doing for the environment will show results forever. If we aren’t making these investments now, we’re not going to have the opportunity to make them in the future.”

In Her Own Words

EagleErin Rexin is the 2016-17 recipient of the Allen Hackett Scholarship for students in wildlife, fish and conservation biology. Below, she explains how the scholarship made a difference in her undergraduate education at UC Davis. Receiving this scholarship has allowed me to focus on my school work, resulting in my continued placement on the Dean's List, and has given me increased peace of mind regarding my financial stability while attending classes.

This scholarship has also allowed me to participate in fee-based club activities such as field trips to the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge and entry to special documentary screenings that would otherwise not be available to me. This scholarship is an honor to receive and comes with a responsibility of maintaining a level of academic excellence that I take seriously. I appreciate the financial assistance provided and will continue to work hard in the hopes of making the donor proud of the investment.

Scholarships help students achieve their goals

Undergraduate and graduate student scholarships provide crucial support that helps the best and brightest pursue their education at UC Davis.

Declining state funding, increased tuition costs and economic uncertainty are some of the factors that weigh heavily on students and their families nowadays. Scholarships help relieve these burdens and allow students to focus on their educational pursuits rather than worrying about how to pay the bills.

Student support offers much more than access alone. It gives students the chance to challenge themselves, stretch their limits and expand their knowledge by exploring new and exciting ideas. Endowing a scholarship is an investment in the students who receive the awards. But it is also an investment in the communities these students will serve once their educational goals have been achieved and they leave UC Davis to pursue a career.

To learn more about giving opportunities that support students in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, please contact Pam Pacelli at 530-867-3679 or