Skip to main content Skip to navigation

NWREC Newsletter Winter 2018

Chad Kruger

Director’s Update

We faced both challenge and inspiration in 2017 at WSU Mount Vernon NWREC. It seems the only predictable thing was change. Major events included a leadership and administrative reorganization, announced retirements of two faculty, hiring two new research and teaching faculty, conducting searches for a soil scientist and College Dean, transitions of long-time staff, a heart-breaking car accident involving two of our graduate students, multiple graduate students completing M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, the election of a faculty member to a leadership role in a major scientific society, a career honor for a long-time staff member, some very significant media coverage for a couple of our programs, accreditation granted for a new undergraduate degree program, and visits from a number of special guests. In addition to all of these major events were the everyday activities of highly productive faculty, staff and students—including numerous meetings and presentations with partner industries and scientific societies, dozens of experiments and publications, new grants and scholarships, classes and exams. NWREC is a busy and inspiring place to work.

One of the major challenges of 2017 was a significant budget reduction as part of the strategy to address the larger WSU budget challenges. The total impact on NWREC’s core University funding has been approximately 15% in the past 18 months. Addressing this challenge has not been easy, and required some difficult personnel impacts and the need to strategically consolidate and reorganize administrative support to minimize the impact on our research, extension and teaching programs. One thing many people don’t realize is that our programs function largely on extramural funding—grants, contracts, gifts, fees and tuition. Out of the roughly 60 NWREC employees, only around 10 are fully funded through core University resources. We are extremely grateful to our partners in industry and the community and our donors. We literally don’t function without your support.

Juan Alonso poses with his length of service award next to a cardboard stand-up of Butch T. Cougar.
NWREC mechanic Juan Alonso celebrates 40 years of service at the 2017 Employee Recognition Reception in Pullman.

It’s not every day that an employee is honored for four decades of service to any institution or company. In fact, 40 years ago I didn’t even know how to count to 40. We celebrated Farm Maintenance Mechanic Juan Alonso’s 40th anniversary working for WSU in 2017—all of that time at NWREC! So, we sent Juan to Pullman in December so he could visit labs and greenhouses on campus and receive his award from President Schulz. We are all very proud of Juan and how hard he works and how supportive he is of faculty, staff and students.

Sam Smith talks with Lydia Tymon in the Vegetable Pathology Lab at NWREC (Debbie Inglis in background).
Sam Smith with Professor Debbie Inglis and Lydia Tymon in the Vegetable Pathology Lab.

We entertain a lot of visitors at NWREC, ranging from industry partners and visiting scientists, to dignitaries and politicians, to community members and tourists. It can get be quite a hectic place at times. One notable visitor in 2017 included a software engineer turned billionaire who visited the grain trials and then baked bread at the Bread Lab (https://www.gatesnotes.com/Development/Bread-Lab). Former WSU President (and Plant Pathologist) Sam Smith visited in December for a lab tour and visit with the Plant Pathology faculty.

Students sit at desks with their hands raised.
5th graders love to ask questions. Usually better questions than adults!

Perhaps the most important visitors we hosted this year were several K-12 student groups who came to learn about agriculture and science. Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland brought several classes of local 5th graders to NWREC as part of their Youth InFARMation program. It had just rained before the last class of 5th graders this fall, so we moved the “outdoor” part of the activity into the Sakuma Auditorium. Given that the 80 5th graders had just been on a local dairy farm, well…you can guess what the lobby and the auditorium looked like! A number of faculty, staff and grad students pitched in on the clean-up. Sometimes inspiring the next generation is a little messy. 😊

One opportunity to join in on the learning here is to attend our NWREC Brown Bag Seminar Series. We host up to a dozen seminars from guest scientists each year that are open to the public. You can find the list of 2018 seminars posted on our website. We would love to have you join us for a brown bag lunch and opportunity to learn.

And please do mark your calendar and plan to visit WSU Mount Vernon during the annual WSU Mount Day Field Day and Research Showcase on Thursday, July 12. We’ll start around 3:00pm and end with a BBQ and poster session. You’ll see a lot of interesting research, hear from faculty and grad students, and possibly meet someone really interesting.

Chad Kruger, Director

Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland logo

NARF—A NWREC Strategic Partner

The Northwest Agricultural Research Foundation has been a partner with WSU Mount Vernon for more than seven decades. In fact, NARF preceded WSU in the establishment of the Research Center and has been a critical partner on many occasions advocating on behalf of the Center and providing funding for research programs and facilities. The work of NARF is especially important because it provides a grass-roots approach for prioritizing research needs and putting farmer “skin in the game” to help researchers leverage other sources of funding to answer questions important to the viability and sustainability of agriculture in Northwest Washington. If you don’t know about NARF, you can read more about it in a recent issue of the Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland newsletter “The Dirt”. If you would like to support this important work you can become directly involved in NARF through committee work and/or you can support it with funding.

Lindsey du Toit

Dr. du Toit Elected Vice President of APS

Dr. Lindsey du Toit was named Vice President-elect of the American Phytopathological Society, during the organization’s annual meeting, held August 5-9 in San Antonio, TX. Professor du Toit is director of the WSU Vegetable Seed Pathology Program, based at WSU Mount Vernon, and is a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology.

Since 2014, she has served as councilor-at-large to the society, which is made up of nearly 5,000 plant pathologists in higher education, government, industry and private practice. The society advances high-quality, innovative plant pathology research and the sharing of scientific innovations worldwide. As vice president, du Toit will work with the society’s council, boards, committees and staff to expand membership, promote diversity, encourage communication and awareness, set priorities, and guide growth.

“My role in APS will help bring a better national and international perspective to my program at WSU,” she said, “At the same time, my role at WSU, a land grant institution, will help keep my contributions to the society grounded in developing real solutions for plant disease management.”

Scott Hulbert, Chair of the Department of Plant Pathology says, “APS is the premier society for the Plant Pathology profession internationally so having WSU scientists in the presidential lineage is fantastic for the visibility of the department and for CAHNRS.”

Congratulations to Lindsey on this incredible honor and important opportunity to serve the broader community of plant pathologists!

Dr. Steve Jones
Dr. Steve Jones of the WSU Bread Lab.

An Endowment for the Bread Lab and an Honor for Dr. Steve Jones

Two huge announcements were made this week for the WSU Bread Lab and Dr. Steve Jones. Clif Bar announced the funding of a $1.5 million endowment in support of the Bread Lab in partnership with King Arthur Flour and area donors. You can read more about the endowment here:

Clif Bar and King Arthur Flour Announce $1.5 million endowment for the WSU Bread Lab

The Pellegrini Foundation announced Dr. Steve Jones as their 2018 Award Winner on February 3 at the FareStart Restaurant in Seattle.

Congrats to Steve and the Bread Lab team on these great honors!

Randy Honcoop stands next to his wife, Leslie as he displays his 2017 Golden Berry Award.
Randy (left) and Leslie (right) Honcoop receive the inaugural Golden Berry Award.

Honcoop Honored as Inaugural Golden Berry Recipient

WSU faculty and student research is often conducted in close collaboration with farmers and industry partners. This collaboration can include on-farm research, co-evolving research projects, partnering in education and outreach opportunities and funding. These collaborative relationships are both valuable and rewarding to us, as we learn a great deal from our farmer/industry collaborators. In recognition of the rich tradition of collaborators, our faculty created the WSU Golden Berry Award to honor and appreciate individuals and entities who have gone the extra mile in extraordinary collaboration with WSU faculty and students in research and extension activities. Our inaugural recipient of the WSU Golden Berry Award is Randy Honcoop. Randy’s farm is almost like an extension of the WSU Mount Vernon experimental farm in Whatcom County! He has hosted dozens of research experiments over the years and we are incredibly thankful for his graciousness as a collaborator. Randy and his wife, Leslie, are pictured below with the Golden Berry Award presented at the November 2017 Small Fruit Conference.

A view of the Eggert Family Organic Farm on the WSU Pullman campus. The farm is a training ground for WSU students interested in organic agriculture.
A view of the Eggert Family Organic Farm on the WSU Pullman campus. The farm is a training ground for WSU students interested in organic agriculture.

New Degree Program

From CAHNRS News

Organic ag major expands to Western Washington

EVERETT, Wash.—Western Washington residents now have the option to earn a Washington State University degree in organic agriculture—in their own back yard. Starting with the spring 2018 semester, WSU will offer an organic ag major at the WSU Everett campus.

“There are a lot of people who have families, jobs, or other factors that keep them from moving across the state to eastern Washington,” said John Reganold, WSU Regents professor of Soil Science & Agroecology. “This allows them to get their degree without moving, and to learn from our world-class teachers and researchers.”

Courses will be taught in-person or via videoconference by WSU faculty from the Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center, the WSU Pullman campus, and other sites statewide.

“Washington, the number two producer of organic food in the US, has the right climate, great farmland, and farmers who love growing delicious, nutritious crops,” Reganold said.

Community college coordination

What’s more, students can start the degree program at Everett Community College. WSU recently signed an agreement with the community college that allows students to study there for two years and then transition to the WSU organic ag program to earn a bachelor’s degree. WSU is working on similar agreements with other community colleges in the state, providing students a smooth transition into the WSU Everett program. All these efforts add up to greater access for students and more skilled graduates for Washington agriculture.

WSU Everett campus.
WSU Everett

“This program expands the potential to provide trained graduates to support and expand the vibrant organic ag industry in western Washington,” said Desmond Layne, director of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences’ Agricultural and Food Systems and Integrated Plant Sciences degree programs. “The possibility of more linkages with industry for student education, research, and outreach is all excellent.”

More research, outreach

For farmers on the west side of Washington, the degree program spells more research and outreach as well. WSU received funding from the Washington state legislature to enable the expanded organic ag major and to ensure the robustness of agricultural teaching, research, and extension in Western Washington.

“In addition to the degree program offering, the Legislature’s investment will result in more research and outreach to support farmers in Western Washington,” said Chad Kruger, director of the Mount Vernon research center. “There is a double benefit for Western Washington agriculture: access to more employees with a WSU education and more research to help solve the ongoing problems facing west-side agriculture.”

Learn more about the WSU Organic Agriculture Systems major.

Screen capture from www.wagrown.com showing video footage from episode featuring the WSU Mount Vernon Cider Program.

Cider feature on Washington Grown broadcast

WSU Mount Vernon’s Cider Program was featured in a recent edition of the Washington Grown television show! Our Cider Horticulture and Fermentation Programs collaborated to tell the story of our program from orchard to beverage. You can watch the clip starting at 17:56. You probably want to watch the full episode though!

Dr. Susan Kerr kneeling in a field.
Dr. Susan Kerr

Thank You and Best Wishes to Dr. Susan Kerr

Colleagues, with a heavy heart and yet a smile, I want to let you know that Dr. Susan Kerr has announced her retirement. Her last day in the office will be July 2, 2018.

Like others, I have had the fortunate opportunity to work with Dr. Kerr in the Columbia River Gorge but also had the unfortunate task of filling her shoes after she departed Klickitat County. I knew then that Dr. Kerr was an impossible model of an Extension faculty for me to follow, but it wasn’t until I on-boarded as ANR Unit Director that I saw the degree of accomplishments Dr. Kerr has accumulated throughout her career. I’ve assembled a few award nomination packets on behalf of Dr. Kerr and I tell you, it was exhausting. The piles of grants, collaborations, workshops, evaluations, scholarship, impacts, articles and testimonials I needed to summarize were monumental. She collects accomplishments like out of print extension bulletins (inside joke unless you’ve been to her office). While exhausting, it was very entertaining because I ran across workshop gems, like “Why did Ewe Die?” I’ve never met someone that made work as much fun as Dr. Kerr.

One of her colleagues in the Vet community sums it up best. Here is the introduction paragraph from an award nomination:

“When you first meet Dr. Susan Kerr, you think she is an ordinary veterinarian, but when you have the opportunity to work with her side by side, read one of her publications, participate in a forum she organized, or listen to her present, you quickly recognize she is so much more. Her dedication to her clientele, especially the youth, is tireless, her persistence to seek the needs of and serve her community is unmatched, her professional motivation is surging not slowing and her ability to work with diverse groups and remove boundaries is both unique and commendable. Humble and quiet, no one would ever know what she has accomplished and continues to contribute to our profession. Dr. Kerr takes the words “served with distinction” to a new level.”

My experience with Dr. Kerr has been high production, high impact, high integrity, all with a heart of gold. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Kerr and take advantage of her awesome brains, passion for Extension work and expertise before she retires!

Todd A. Murray
Director, Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Program Unit
Washington State University College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences