The State Worker: Unusual California state government jobs: Seed botanist

agebert@sacbee.comJuly 30, 2013 

This is the second installment in our series on California state employees whose jobs don't immediately come to mind when you think of government work.

Name: Robert Price

Job Title: Associate seed botanist, Department of Food and Agriculture

Number of years working with state: four

What does a typical week in the life of a seed botanist look like? "All sorts of things come to our offices (via the mail). Basically, we are sitting at our microscopes. ... The people who have my job are looking for seed purity, looking at seed and plant material to see what is there and analyzing them according the state and federal law. We do both standard kinds of samples, to see that labels are accurate in the state of California, or we do things for companies, certificates for export. ... Farmers ask us to do specific tests on types of products. ... It is very diverse. That is one of the fun aspects of the job, you never know what will happen on any given day of the week."

What is the most extraordinary or interesting thing that has happened while you were on the job? "People sometimes try to ship in various types of fruits and vegetables that they have not declared in customs. They have dog teams that look for vegetable matter that is not declared. Particularly, they are looking for insects that could damage the state's agriculture (and) we just get all sorts of strange things that we try to figure out what they are. ... (We had) this big shipment of poppy seeds that was flagged by the border agency. They (poppy seeds) have to be non-living for commerce in the United States, but the ones we found were all alive. We were not sure what someone was intending to do with them."

How did you come to be a seed botanist? "Friends of mine told me that were was an opening in the Department of Agriculture. I have a broad background in botany. I've been a university teacher and I have been a scientific editor and it just seemed like a really interesting job to do."

Is there anything you want people to know about your job? "It's a very rewarding job to know that we are protecting the field of agriculture in California, which is a billion-dollar industry. We especially ... try to prevent (invasive species) from getting established because they are very hard and offensive to get rid of, so if we can, we keep them out in the first place."

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Do you have an interesting state government job or know someone who does? Think people would like to read about it? Send a note to agebert@sacbee.com.

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