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WSU grad student looks to bridge communication gap

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Washington State University graduate student Keiko Tuttle believes the communication gap between agriculture and urban youth is one of the biggest problems agriculture faces today. Tuttle, who is working on a project to stop pre-harvest sprouting, wrote an essay that received national attention.

PULLMAN, Wash. — College students can help overcome the communications gap between policy makers and farmers, Washington State University Ph.D. student Keiko Tuttle says

“We’re still up and coming, we’re sponges, we absorb everything, and we are so jazzed, we think we can fix everything,” she said. “With that naivete comes the excitement and the vigor to want to bridge gaps and change the world.”

In February, Tuttle attended the USDA 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum on the Changing Face of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. She was selected for writing an essay about the challenges agriculture faces in the next five years.

Students would take the opportunities to attend events like the Washington Grain Commission’s research review and interact with growers, Tuttle said.

“When you can get personal accounts of how it’s affecting (the farmer’s) family, their livelihood, you become more invested,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle does not have a farming background. As an undergraduate researcher, she studied one-celled algae, but was drawn to WSU’s and the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s research program during a summer internship in 2009.

She’s excited to be working with wheat, because she can see the eventual application of her work.

Under USDA research plant molecular geneticist Camille Steber, Tuttle studies hormones that play a role in wheat seed germination and dormancy. Pre-harvest sprouting is caused by rain before harvest or in the later stages of seed maturing, affecting end-product quality and causes large financial losses for wheat farmers.

Tuttle and Steber are also studying late-maturing alpha-amylase, which causes low falling numbers in wheat. When farmers are found to have low falling numbers in a test at grain elevators, they receive a lower price for their wheat.

The goal is to protect the farmers from risk of large financial losses, Steber said.

Steber said Tuttle is a good communicator, which is important in an era of tight budgets for research projects.

“It’s very rare to find extroverts among scientists,” Steber said. “Those rare extroverts have a big part to play, because people don’t hear enough about what we do. I think you should look for her to have a big effect on policy in the future.”

Friend and fellow Ph.D. student Amber Hauvermale agrees, saying the sky is the limit for Tuttle.

“When Keiko makes the decision to pursue a passion, she pursues it with her whole being,” Hauvermale said. “She is driven and tenacious and isn’t intimidated by things that are new to her, complicated or at times unrewarding. I know she will make amazing contributions to whatever arena she chooses.”

Tuttle loves research, and hopes to work in the industry or USDA. She could also see getting involved in policy creation and making sure it relates back to growers.

She cites ongoing concerns about finding the next generation of farmers as growers age and retire.

“I’m don’t know how we’re going to solve it, but I have a lot of faith in land-grant universities that have a lot of undergraduate students interested in ag businesses and ag technology,” she said. “They take amazing classes here and they leave here wanting to be farmers.”

Keiko Tuttle

Age: 28

Title: Ph.D. student, Washington State University

Hometown: Ridgecrest, Calif.

Current location: Pullman, Wash.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and biotechnology at California State University- Fullerton.

Family: Mom and dad, older sister, younger brother



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