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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

ARS 50th Anniversary Celebration

Logo Image for "A R S : The Future Grows Here"Agricultural Research Service
50th Anniversary

Local Event

Pacific West Area
Vegetable and Forage Crops Research Unit,
Prosser, WA


History and Major Accomplishments by the
Vegetable and Forage Crops Research Unit, Prosser, WA

The Washington State University Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (WSU-IAREC) was first established in 1919. The first cooperative work with the USDA was initiated in 1922. In 1941 the Prosser Chamber of Commerce purchased 5 acres on the WSU-IAREC field experiment site and donated it to the USDA. Later that land was swapped for 5 acres adjacent to the experiment station laboratory buildings which houses the USDA greenhouses and storage buildings.

1943 Dr. Steve Mech transferred to Prosser to work on wind erosion control for the USDA.
1947 Dr. Vic Bruns, research on aquatic weed control in irrigation canals.
1951 Dr. Jim Menzies, who previously was with WSU, began as a USDA Plant Pathologist working on bean diseases and soil related factors.
1954 Dr. Doug Burke arrived to begin a full-time effort on improving dry beans through breeding and disease control.

Dr. Jean Dawson, ARS weed scientist, embarked on work to control weeds of such row crops as sugar beets and alfalfa.
Dr. Tom Toyama, tree fruit breeder who released varieties such as the Rainier cherry and the Rival apricot.
Mr. Clarence Rincker brought the beginning of alfalfa and forage crop research.
Dr. Bill Hoyman, potato breeder/pathologist. Dr. Hoyman determined that potato leafroll virus was introduced via seed potatoes, laid the groundwork for potato breeding, and released several germplasm lines and cultivars.

1960s Dr. Dave Miller and M. Louie Boawn, soil scientists
Dr. Matt Silbernagel, snap bean breeder/plant pathologist, joined the dry bean breeding project.
Dr. Richard Comes, research on aquatic weeds and ditchbank weed control.
Dr. Ray Clark, tomato breeder, began research
Mr. Chuck Zimmerman, Plant Physiologist specializing in hops, who was instrumental in releasing the Olympic, Centennial, and Chinook hop varieties which were bred, developed, and released exclusively by USDA-ARS Prosser.
Dr. Mark Martin replaced Ray Clark, tomato improvement program
Dr. Peter Thomas, Plant Pathologist, curly top virus virology. Dr. Thomas has a patent pending (Serial #10/629,668) entitled “Green Peach Aphid Densovirus and Methods of its Use as a Biological Control”.
Dr. John Kraft replaced Dr. Richard Hampton, pea pathologist/breeder
1980s Dr. Alex Ogg, weed scientist. From 1970 to 1989 these four weed scientists represented one of the largest groups of ARS weed scientists in the nation.
Dr. Louis Marquis, Plant Physiologist, weeds research.
Dr. Rick Boydston, Research Agronomist, weeds research.
Dr. Dave Lauer, soil fertility expert.
Dr. Tom Hodges, development of a predictive model for potatoes
Dr. Charles Brown, Research Geneticist, applied molecular geneticist for potatoes
1990s Dr. Richard Larsen, Research Plant Pathologist, alfalfa virologist.
Dr. Sally Schneider, systems engineer and nematologist.
Dr. Philip Miklas, Research Geneticist, pea/bean.
Dr. George Vandemark, Research Geneticist, alfalfa. In 1998, Dr. Vandemark, along with cooperating scientists from Agritope Inc. and Agriquest Inc., were awarded U. S. Patent #5,753,222 “Antibiotic-Producing Strain of Bacillus and Methods for Controlling Plant Disease” which describes the use of an isolate of B. subtilis, discovered by Dr. Vandemark, for controlling several different fungal diseases of plants.
Dr. Harold Collins, Soil Scientist/Microbiologist
1999 Dr. John Kraft, stepped down as the location’s Research Leader, and Dr. Ashok Alva (previously with the University of Florida) was hired to serve as Prosser’s Research Leader and Location Coordinator.
2000s Dr. Roy Navarre, Research Geneticist, potato.
Dr. Niklaus Grunwald, Research Plant Pathologist, pea/bean.

Since 1954, we have had active germplasm enhancement and breeding programs in tomatoes, potatoes, alfalfa, peas, and beans. Drs. Martin and Thomas essentially solved the curly top tomato problem. The dry bean and snap bean research programs at Prosser have released over 20 varieties and many are still being grown on sizeable acreages in the Pacific Northwest, the West, and the Midwest. The alfalfa cultivars developed by Dr. Richard Peaden lessened the Verticillium wilt, stem nematode, and root-knot nematode problems in the western states. In1975, upon the retirement of Dr. Hoyman, Drs. Martin and Thomas shifted the focus of their research from tomato to potato. Work involved breeding for pest and disease resistance in potato and control of virus problems through epidemiological studies and host resistance.

With Dr. Brown’s arrival in 1986, the breeding work shifted emphasis to utilization of wild sources of resistance, mapping, using molecular markers, and transformation. In addition, Dr. Brown conducted genetic research in levels of antioxidants in potato and developed a breeding program emphasizing that trait. This includes red, purple, bright yellow, and orange-fleshed potatoes. Ongoing research on potatoes by Drs. Peter Thomas and Charles Brown is leading to the significant reduction in importance of such economically important diseases of potatoes such as leafroll, Corky ringspot, and root-knot nematode problems.

The dry bean breeding project at Prosser has been in existence since 1959 under the direction of Dr. Doug Burke (1959-1988), Dr. Matt Silbernagel (1965-1995) and Dr. Phil Miklas (1996-) and has served the bean industry for 45 years by providing enhanced germplasm (35 lines), improved cultivars (15), and integrated disease management strategies. Cultivars released in the 1970s and 80s such as NW 63 and Rufus small reds, Viva and Roza pinks, and Othello and NW 593 pintos are still widely grown today and have provided the genetic foundation for subsequent bean cultivar improvements. Major contributions since 1995 include development of virus and bacterial blight resistant germplasm, development and incorporation of molecular marker-assisted selection, introgression of useful traits from secondary gene pools, and genetic characterization of disease resistance.

Weed control research at Prosser has developed solutions to several weed problems such as weed control in field beans, asparagus, grapes, sweet corn, peppermint, spearmint, newly seeded and established alfalfa, submersed weeds in irrigation canals, sugarbeets, and hops.

The cropping systems research team has developed fertility practices for potatoes, determined that Columbia Basin soils are zinc deficient, and devised procedures to apply zinc to correct this deficiency in such crops as beans and grapes. The recent focus has been on sustainable management of production inputs in an effort to minimize the potential negative effects on the environment while maintaining high productivity and net returns. The research team has made significant progress in: (i) the application of capacitance probe for continuous monitoring of soil water as an aid to schedule irrigation for potatoes and rotational crops; (ii) role of cover crops and conservation tillage to improve soil quality, minimize the reliance on pesticides, minimize soil erosion during the off-season, and improve soil microbial diversity and population; (iii) controlling volunteer potatoes in rotation crops in potato production systems; and (iv) improving the potato crop simulation model (SIMPOTATO) and incorporation of this model with CROPSYST to evaluate the nitrogen dynamics and predict crop growth and yield.



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Last Modified: 8/22/2016
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