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UC Food Safety

Hail to Hilgard

Eugene W. Hilgard
UC Berkeley has Hilgard Hall. UC Davis has Hilgard Lane. UCLA has Hilgard Avenue. There's even a mineral named hilgardite.

Why is the name Hilgard held in such high regard? Eugene W. Hilgard played a pivotal role in the development of California agriculture, from analyzing the Central Valley's potential as fertile farmland to promoting quality in the state's burgeoning wine industry.

Born in 1833 in Germany, Hilgard is considered the father of modern soil science in the United States. After stints at the University of Mississippi and University of Michigan, in 1875 Hilgard came to UC Berkeley as dean of the College of Agriculture and served as founding director of UC's Agricultural Experiment Station.

Hilgard began his 30-year UC career as a one-man operation, visiting farms throughout the state, inviting growers to send him their questions and answering their letters personally. He helped to inventory the state's diverse soils and taught farmers to better understand them. Under his supervision, soil maps were produced for the first time for many California counties. His research helped show how to remove salts from the alkali soils in the Central Valley, turning what was once barren land into one of the world's most productive farming regions.

Hilgard Hall at UC Berkeley was the first UC experiment station.
Hilgard also believed in California's potential to develop a great winemaking industry. In 1880, the Legislature created a Board of State Viticultural Commissioners and appropriated $3,000 annually for viticultural research. For the next 15 years, Hilgard supervised fermentation studies at Berkeley, amassing mountains of scientific data. He alerted winemakers to the threat of the grape-destroying phylloxera pest and advocated for growing high-quality wines.

With California agriculture now a $45 billion industry and Cooperative Extension celebrating its centennial, it's a good time to toast someone who helped lay the foundation for that success: Eugene Hilgard.

Posted on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 8:28 AM

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