College of Agriculture


James A. Young

Growing up on a fifth-generation family ranch in the hills of Siskiyou County, James Young developed an early excitement for life.  With a family in full-time livestock production, Young's playmates were cowboys and farmhands.

"It was a wonder they didn't shoot me for all the dirty tricks I played on them," Young says.

Active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America, Young reaped honors and valuable learning experiences.

Although the excitement of being young and playful has faded away, Young's passion for agriculture hasn't.

"I couldn't visualize anything other than being in agriculture," he says.

Being a range scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), hallmarks Young's service to agriculture.  This is why the CSU, Chico College of Agriculture will honor the 1960 graduate with the 2001 Distinguished Alumni Award.  The Distinguished Alumni program is an annual university-wide event that honors alumni from all seven colleges at the university.

Young got his start in a two-year animal science program at the University of California, Davis, in 1958.  Transferring to Chico State with the influence of friends, his future wife Cheryl—who was attending Chico State at the time—and the enticement of "excellent core teachers," Young set out on an educational path in agronomy.

"It was top-notch," Young says about his education in the College of Agriculture, "I always felt equal, in terms of training, to people from anywhere else." 

While at Chico State, Young says he appreciated the positive influence of Loren Phillips, former professor in the College of Agriculture, who told Young, "You are going to do great things, or I will kick your rear end."

As a "starving, married college student," Young had limited involvement at Chico State, but he did achieve in the academic realm, having been part of a biology honor society.  After teaching a course in plant taxonomy at Chico State his senior year, Young graduated with his bachelor of science degree in 1960.

Continuing his education at North Dakota State University, Young received his Master of Science in plant breeding-genetics and then finished his Ph.D. in range science at Oregon State University.

During his doctoral work, Young was required to translate the book The Vegetation of the Bet Pat Dal Desert.  The good part: it sparked his lifelong interest in the temperate deserts of Central Asia.  The bad part: he had to translate it from Russian. 

"I thought it couldn't be any harder than German," says Young.  Later, the author of the book Young translated gave him a copy of his current book.  This time the book was already translated to English.  "I thought maybe he found out how bad my translation was," says Young with a laugh.

Since his days of education, Young has held his post in the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Reno since 1965, focusing on range science and writing 650 scientific publications.  In 1993, the USDA Agricultural Research Service named him Outstanding Scientist of the Year, and he was honored by the secretary of agriculture with the Superior Service Award in 1995, the highest honor given by the USDA.

But Young's greatest accomplishment comes from another reward, he says.  Young has served as an adjunct professor of range science and a member of the graduate faculty at the University of Nevada for 37 years. 

"It's so neat to see people you encouraged pursue education," he says about his many students.

Young's forecast for his future includes continuing to write, working for the USDA another five years or so, working in his garden and possibly retiring in Chico.

"It's a beautiful place and one of our favorite destinations," he says. 

Young and his wife have three children, Theresa, James and Nancy.