Superintendent stood at forefront of disease research efforts
By MITCH LIES
HERMISTON, Ore. -- Phil Hamm, superintendent of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, is retiring April 1 as Oregon State University professor and extension plant pathologist.
Hamm plans to continue as director of the center, a half-time position he has held since 2005.
"I am going to speak less, travel less and fish more," Hamm said.
Hamm also plans to oversee plant pathology research at the station in an unofficial capacity.
"If I were to retire today, with the economic state of the university, my position (as plant pathologist) would not be replaced," he said. "And I believe the plant pathology program is needed."
The Hermiston research and extension center serves nearly 500,000 acres of irrigated agriculture in Oregon's and Washington's Columbia Basin.
Hamm started at OSU in 1975 as a faculty research assistant in tree seedling diseases.
"I literally wrote the book on conifer diseases," he said, referring to an 80-page book published by OSU researchers on conifer seedling diseases. "Back then, it was a big deal because there was all this cutting and replanting going on."
He left the main campus for the Hermiston center 22 years ago and began working on food crops.
Hamm helped protect the potato industry from several disease outbreaks, including late blight, which struck the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s.
"In the '90s and early 2000s, we spent a lot of time understanding late blight," he said. "We helped identify a new strain that came into the Columbia Basin that was fungicide resistant."
Hamm also was a key researcher behind efforts to understand and control potato virus Y and the beet leafhopper-transmitted phytoplasma that causes purple top virus.
Potato tuberworm moth struck the area in the early 2000s at a time when the station was without an entomologist.
"True to what this station has always done, we all stepped up to the plate," he said. "Everyone of us started doing tuber moth work."
Station researchers today are focusing on zebra chip, a tuber disease transmitted by potato psyllid that struck the area for the first time last summer.
"It's been fun," Hamm said of his time in Hermiston. "It's been a great train ride, and it's not ending."