'Dr. Pistachio' legacy supports fruit and nut tree graduate students.
The next time you grab a bag of pistachios, think about Professor Julian Crane.
"Dr. Pistachio" was a plant scientist at UC Davis from 1946 until he retired in 1985. He was the first to conduct foundational research on a nut crop that was grown on only 25,000 acres 35 years ago but now encompasses more than 275,000 acres in California.
Today, California is the number one global producer of pistachios—about 40 percent of of the world's total supply. In 2012, California pistachios were worth $1.1 billion, a figure that can fluctuate because of the alternate bearing nature of the tree—heavy crop one year, a light one the next. Professor Crane and his many graduate students worked on alternate bearing and other aspects of pistachio tree crop growth and development.
"He did all the early work to characterize pistachios and their suitability for California's central San Joaquin Valley," said Louise Ferguson, a Cooperative Extension specialist who works with the pistachio industry. "Dr. Crane basically defined the climate the tree needed, how it produced, what were the best pollinators, and set the stage for the commercialization that you see now. He truly prepared the way for me and the industry."
Professor Crane died in 1999. After his wife, Betty Crane, passed on in 2012, the Crane estate established a $2.4 million endowment for graduate research assistantships in plant sciences. Plant sciences professor Ted DeJong said endowment support is essential to help defray the high cost of graduate assistantships.
DeJong worked with Crane in the early 1980s and eventually took over his class on fruit and nut tree growth and management. "He was a well-respected member of the faculty," DeJong said. "He was a classic old-style professor. When you were talking to Dr. Crane, you knew you were talking to Dr. Crane. He was very effective."
Crane and his associates devoted more than 15 years to pistachio research. He was regarded as a leader in research aimed at solving industry problems. Prior to working with pistachio, his research centered largely on characterizing fig fruit growth and ripening. He also conducted similar studies on almond, apricot, cherry, plum, and peach.
With a reputation as an excellent mentor, Professor Crane attracted graduate students from around the world. "I'm very pleased about the gift," Ferguson said. "I like the fact that it will support students because graduate fellowships are getting harder and harder to get. That was really wonderful of them to do that."
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