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Researcher stresses need for field work 

Retired USDA and Washington State University plant pathologist R. James Cook delivers the keynote address during the Far West Agribusiness Association annual meeting, running Dec. 9-11 in Pasco, Wash. Cook will emphasize the need for research in the fields. The conference is designed for agribusinesses who support and hope to increase value for farmers, executive director Jim Fitzgerald says.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on November 24, 2013 12:22PM

R. James Cook is emeritus professor of plant pathology and crop and soil sciences at Washington State University.

R. James Cook is emeritus professor of plant pathology and crop and soil sciences at Washington State University.

A longtime Washington researcher will emphasize the importance of field research during a meeting for Northwest agribusinesses.

R. James Cook, retired USDA Agricultural Research Service plant pathologist and Washington State University emeritus professor of plant pathology and crop and soil sciences, will deliver the keynote address during the Far West Agribusiness Association annual meeting Dec. 9-11 at the Red Lion Hotel at 2525 N. 20th Ave., in Pasco, Wash.

Using his own research on root diseases in wheat, Cook hopes to emphasize the importance of research conducted in the field.

“People like me are retiring and we’re not being replaced by people that still do field work,” he said. “We’re being replaced by bright, well-trained, young men and women, but they all want to work with molecular biology in the laboratory. They do not have the skills that I and others of my generation developed in terms of how to answer research questions in the field.”

Cook said agribusinesses will have to pick up the slack on applied research, but he’s not certain who will be conducting fundamental research in the field, with backup in the greenhouse.

“A single scientific discovery can change almost everything overnight once it’s accepted by farmers and agribusinesses,” he said. “A misdiagnosis, widely held within science, agribusiness and farmers, can delay progress interminably.”

Cook worked at WSU for 40 years. One of his major discoveries was the green bridge, showing that volunteer plants can hold root pathogens between the harvest of one crop and planting another. In 2011, he received the prestigious international Wolf Prize for Agriculture.

“He still has research under way,” association executive director Jim Fitzgerald said of Cook. “He’s got a terrific amount of insight. He’s able to see ahead of what may be coming about.”

The organization holds two conferences about a month apart, covering Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington, with events in central Washington and southern Idaho. The second conference meets Jan. 6-8 in Twin Falls, Idaho.

The agenda for the December meeting includes presentations on fraud prevention and a West Fertilizer Company ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas, in early 2013.

“There’s a lot of interest in that incident,” Fitzgerald said.

The speakers are former EPA employees who have started their own risk management engineering firm. The association saw an opportunity for a local perspective and the cause and effect of the incident on regulations, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said the association aims to help agronomists, applicators and others help their farmer-customers be as successful as possible, maximizing yields, water use and soil efficiency.

“We want them to walk out the door with a notebook full of notes, be terrifically energized and enthused about what they’ve learned and the people they’ve met and to feel like they’re really prepared for 2014,” Fitzgerald said.

Continuing education pesticide credits for California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Utah are available.

For more information, call the Far West office at 509-465-5055.




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