Oklahoma native Will Jessie had long wanted to spend time in the Pacific Northwest. Now he is working here.
Jessie, 32, is one of two new field crops extension agents hired recently by Oregon State University’ College of Agricultural Sciences. He is covering Linn, Benton and southern Polk counties in the Willamette Valley.
Christy Tanner, who also has watershed management duties for OSU Extension, will be covering field crops in Malheur County when she starts June 25.
Jessie, who was introduced as the valley’s new extension agent at OSU’s annual Hyslop Farm Field Day on May 23, said he is excited to be working on the wide variety of field crops produced in the Willamette Valley and to be stationed in Oregon.
“I always wanted to come to the Pacific Northwest,” Jessie said, “and then once I became interested in agriculture, the Willamette Valley was a prime area to at least visit. So, having an opportunity to come out here and get to work in these (cropping) systems is pretty ideal for me.”
Jessie, who holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in entomology from Oklahoma State University, said his initial goal is to learn as rapidly as possible about production issues in the many field crops produced in the valley.
“I have experience in winter wheat, canola, corn and soybeans,” Jessie said, “but the grass seed, clover, mint and the other crops produced here have different systems, different ecology. So, learning as much as I can initially and then to figure out where the knowledge gaps exist are my initial goals.”
Jessie said he also would like to develop better extension information management tools for growers to access.
“That is sort of a long-term goal,” he said. “It is a daunting project to try and incorporate modern technology into some of the traditional extension education programs.”
According to an announcement from OSU, Jessie will “develop and implement or facilitate a comprehensive field crops extension program to meet the needs of agricultural producers in this region. In addition, he will conduct research and demonstration trials as needed to develop or confirm management practices for field crop production.”
Jessie said he has been impressed with the wide diversity of crops produced in the valley and is looking forward to working on some of the many production systems in place in the valley.
“I am used to driving 100 miles and seeing wheat, canola and a little bit of ryegrass,” he said. “Here you are going through orchards, vineyards, clover, meadowfoam and so much more. It is just incredible. And it is definitely a challenge having that diversity of production systems to work in, but that is one of the things that piques my interest — just how many different systems there are.”
Jessie is the third field crops extension agent to serve south valley since Mark Mellbye retired in 2008. Paul Marquardt filled the position for less than a year, starting in March of 2012 and leaving in January 2013. Clare Sullivan filed the position from June of 2014 until January 2017, when she left to take a position as small farms and community food systems extension agent for three Central Oregon counties.
Jessie, whose wife, Casi Jessie, is a post-doctoral student working in OSU Extension slug specialist’s Rory McDonnell’s lab, said he plans to stay in Oregon for a long time.
“I never thought we could come out and live and work in our field in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “Finding two positions in the valley is just incredibly fortunate. We will definitely do our best to make sure that we stick around and make as much of a meaningful impact as we can.”