James A. “Jim” Beutel, a UC Davis pomologist who battled a devastating virus in a well-established fruit and helped in introducing two new fruits to California, died Dec. 28 at the age of 88 at a Vacaville hospital.
Beutel was a lecturer, researcher and Cooperative Extension specialist in the old Department of Pomology (now part of the Department of Plant Sciences) for nearly three decades, starting in 1963.
He wrote the book, so to speak, on kiwifruit and Asian pears when they took root in California. His reports for UC Cooperative Extension’s Small Farm Program are still online, telling how to grow and harvest the fruits, and discussing the economics of each as a crop.
Colleagues recalled Beutel’s involvement, as well, in addressing the pear decline virus that hit California in 1959. He also worked with the cling peach industry, and played a role in research on drawf peach and nectarine trees.
He gave frequent talks and interviews — for example, like the time he was quoted by a Woodland newspaper columnist about the best time to pick a pear. “We pick our Bartletts when they’re still so hard you could almost break your teeth on them,” he said.
“Pears are different from almost any fresh fruit you can name, except kiwifruit, because they are never good when allowed to ripen on the tree,” he said. “They’re grainy, almost gritty — and mushy!”
He lived in retirement in Winters, where he and his wife of 20 years, Kalayada, operated K&J Orchards. The couple sold their produce around Northern California and in Nevada, at farmers markets and directly to restaurants, including the famed French Laundry in Yountville.
Beutel was born in Santa Ana, Orange County, and was a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War.
He attended UC Berkeley before finishing his Bachelor of Science degree at UCLA. He held a master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He took a sabbatical from UC Davis to work on his Ph.D. at Rutgers, researching drip irrigation for minimal water use and maximum fruit production.
He is survived by his wife, Kalayada (nee Tapganjana); daughters Aomboon Deasy, Onanong Montoya, Cecilie Starin, Lissa Stephen and Ellen Beutel; sister, Ruth Beutel and five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.