Kenneth R. Farrell, a former UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources, died after a brief battle with lung cancer Jan. 24. He was 87.
Farrell worked in agriculture for the UC system for nearly 25 years. He first joined in 1957 as an economist within the UC Cooperative Extension, a branch of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources that pairs UC specialists with field advisers across the state in order to translate their research into tangible advice for rural farmers.
“Ken was a thoughtful, decisive leader who made a difference,” said David Zilberman, a campus professor of agricultural and resource economics. “He had strong views, and even though I did not always agree with him, I always respected his reasoning and integrity. I can say without hesitation that he was the leading extension agricultural economist in California in my lifetime.”
In 1971, Farrell left the UC system to direct the Economic Research Service for the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. After leaving the position in 1981, he created the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a nonpartisan agency dedicated to agricultural research and education for the public good.
Farrell returned to the UC system as the vice president for agriculture and natural resources from 1987 to 1995.
“He was a very stubborn person, and he always stood his ground,” said Henry Vaux Jr., former associate vice president to Farrell. “He was courageous in the sense that he was willing to take on the major issues of the day and didn’t shy away from them because they would cause controversy — he was willing to take them on and resolve them even in the face of pushback.”
During his time as vice president, Farrell revitalized the UC Cooperative Extension by reorganizing the program to ensure that the transmission of research to people out in the field was carried out more efficiently. He also restructured the division to allow programs of the highest priority to receive necessary funding.
According to his daughter, Janet Farrell Brodie, Farrell’s strong work ethic stemmed from his childhood growing up in near poverty. He was raised on what he called a “hardscrabble farm” in Ontario, Canada, and developed a passion for the importance of food.
“Even when he was in retirement, he still sat at his desk every day reading economics papers,” Brodie said. “He didn’t wear a suit, but he still had a daily routine of serious work and thinking. He never did much kicking back and relaxing.”
Farrell is survived by five children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, in addition to Brodie. A memorial service will be held at Rossmoor Creekside Complex in Walnut Creek on March 8 at 3 p.m.