John Kabashima wrapped up his horticultural career on July 1, after 28 years with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Nursery professionals lauded the UC Cooperative Extension advisor’s service to the nursery and landscape industry and to homeowners in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
“He’s one of the few people who could translate science into business with a sense of candor and fact-based conversation,” said Robert Crudup, president of Calabasas-based Valley Crest Tree Company, of Kabashima.” John has long-term vision, which he used throughout his career to move the nursery industry forward.”
“He is smart about political science as well as plant science,” Crudup said. On a regular basis, Kabashima would warn growers about emerging issues that were likely to affect the nursery industry, such as regulations to control the spread of polyphagous shot hole borer, red imported fire ant and palm borer.
“He’s been very, very valuable,” said retired nurseryman Gary Hayakawa, noting that Kabashima not only contributed research on pest control and water issues for the nursery and landscape industries, but also persuaded people from UC campuses, the California Department Food and Agriculture and industry to work together. “Before he was involved in issues, the work was all separate. Industry didn’t have input,” Hayakawa said. “What John has done is to work with all three to form a coalition.”
Crudup, whose company has nursery operations in Los Angeles, Ventura, Alameda and San Joaquin counties, agreed.
“John’s biggest contribution was his work with the glassy-winged sharpshooter subcommittee,” said Crudup, who served on the subcommittee. “He brought a voice of reason that helped counterbalance emotional sides of the discussion.”
“His ability to act as the primary liaison between the nursery industry, CDFA, the UC, the county agricultural departments and the wine and grape industries was the primary reason this part of the GWSS (glassy-winged sharpshooter) program was so successful and, more importantly has resulted in the continued viability of the California nursery industry in light of significant regulatory pressures,” said Bob Wynn, who was statewide coordinator of the CDFA Pierce’s Disease Control Program and who continues to oversee the program as senior advisor to Secretary Karen Ross.
“The CDFA, with advisement and counseling from John, developed what is known as the Approved Nursery Treatment Program, which allows nurseries in the infested areas of the state to ship by merely treating the plants with an approved treatment,” Wynn said. “John was the primary author in the development of the nursery ‘Approved Treatment Best Management Practices’ document published in 2008. The use of this document has allowed the nursery industry to save millions of dollars in regulatory compliance costs over time.”
A native of Los Angeles, Kabashima says he started working in his family’s nursery business as soon as he was tall enough to water 1-gallon nursery plants. “After killing thousands of plants, I was finally allowed to manage the family business from 1970 to 1976,” he quipped.
In 1976, his family sold the nursery and Kabashima enrolled at California Polytechnic University, Pomona. After he earned a B.S. in agricultural biology from Cal Poly Pomona in 1979, he was hired by UC Riverside horticulture entomologist Pat Morishita as a lab technician. While working at UC Riverside, Kabashima earned a master’s degree in pest management. He would later complete a Ph.D. in entomology at UC Riverside.
Kabashima earned his MBA at Pepperdine University in 1986 while managing the Ornamental Horticulture Division at Target Specialty Products. In 1987, the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources recruited him to become a UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Over the years, he has studied the management of insects, diseases and weeds in horticulture production systems, biological control of exotic pests, and water-related problems in landscapes, golf courses, nurseries, municipalities and watersheds.
In 1998 Kabashima took over the fledgling UC Master Gardener Program in Orange County, which as of now has trained more than 300 UC Master Gardener volunteers to extend research-based information on gardening and horticulture to the public.
In 1994, when Orange County filed for bankruptcy and the Board of Supervisors voted to discontinue funding and housing for the local UC Cooperative Extension, Kabashima worked with Gary Hayakawa to keep UCCE in the county.
“When Orange County cut Cooperative Extension’s budget, we found out that without extension you don’t have 4-H or Master Gardeners,” Hayakawa said. To preserve the UC Cooperative Extension programs, Hayakawa, who was an Orange County Fair Board member, helped Kabashima secure office space in trailers on the fairgrounds. In 2014, the UCCE office moved from the fairgrounds to UC ANR South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine.
Kabashima belongs to many professional organizations including the Entomological Society of America, California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers, Nursery Growers Association, Western Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, United Agribusiness League, and San Diego Flower and Plant Association. The scientist has served on numerous government and industry advisory committees.
Throughout his career, Kabashima’s achievements in education and research have been recognized by various organizations. To name a few, he received the 1987 Education and Research Award from the Orange County Chapter of the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers (CANGC), 1993 CANERS Research Award from CANGC, 2002 Nursery Extension Agent Award from the American Nursery and Landscape Association, 2008 Western Extension Directors Award of Excellence, 2010 Entomological Society of America’s National IPM Team Award and the 2011 California Agriculture Pest Control Advisors Association Outstanding Contribution to Agriculture Award. In 2014, he and his friend Hayakawa were inducted into the Green Industry Hall of Fame.
Being a UCCE advisor has suited Kabashima. “I love learning new things, sharing that information with others, and using my skills to solve problems facing California, such as the ever-increasing arrivals of exotic and invasive pests,” he said. The avid photographer has been able to unite his avocation with his vocation. His photographs of insects have been used to illustrate textbooks, websites and news articles.
“Success in one’s field is often a combination of natural ability, informal and formal training and education, being mentored, and networking with collaborators and colleagues, all sprinkled with a little bit of luck and support from one’s family and friends,” Kabashima said.
In retirement, Kabashima plans to seek new culinary experiences with his wife Janet and daughter Misa, at home and in their travels together. He has been granted emeritus status by UC ANR and he will continue his efforts to help UC Irvine save trees on its campus that are infested with polyphagous shot hole borer.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and educators draw on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. Learn more at ucanr.edu.