Commission focuses on research

Sean Ellis/Capital Press The Idaho Wheat Commission's new director of research collaboration, Cathy Wilson, was hired to ensure Idaho wheat farmers get the most value from their research dollars.

Wilson to leverage years of experience to foster collaboration

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

BOISE -- The Idaho Wheat Commission's new director of research collaboration, Cathy Wilson, was hired to ensure Gem State wheat farmers get the most bang from their research bucks.

As state funding for agriculture research has decreased, more money from commodity groups and private industry has helped fill the gap, resulting in increasingly complex public-private partnerships, IWC Executive Director Blaine Jacobson said.

"We believe Cathy will be able to help us manage the increasing complexity of our research programs," Jacobson said of Wilson, who has degrees in botany, plant pathology and plant molecular genetics as well as extensive private industry experience. "Her skill set and background are exactly what we need in this changing world of wheat research."

Wilson replaces Patricia Dailey, who served as the commission's director of programs for 17 years. After Dailey retired in October, Jacobson said, the decision was made to change the title and focus of the position.

In addition to analyzing and evaluating funding requests and overseeing current projects, Wilson will serve as a liaison to private and public institutions to help collaborate research efforts.

Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones likes the increased emphasis on research.

"Research is the backbone of the industry," he said. Given the wide differences in climate, precipitation and soil types in Idaho, "if we didn't have good research and development, we wouldn't have a wheat industry in the state."

As state general fund allocations have decreased the past three years because of the depressed economy, more wheat checkoff dollars have been used for research. Half of the IWC's total budget, about $1 million, now goes toward various research projects.

In addition, more private industry dollars, especially from seed companies, are being directed toward research, creating complex public-private partnerships, said Wilson, who has 20 years of research and development experience in the international vegetable seed industry.

"The title we chose for my position is intentional," she said. "We live in a world that has a fast-paced global market. One individual or one entity is not going to have all the expertise required to solve a problem."

While functioning in the roles of station manager, plant breeder and seed production manager in the private and public sectors, Wilson has worked closely with growers, processors, dealers and university extension services.

"Her knowledge of agricultural research and her experience working in the public and private sectors will enable us to bring value back to the Idaho wheat farmers through our funded research projects and through research alliances," Jacobson said.

Wilson said one of her main goals is to develop new varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases. "We want to minimize some of those stresses and maximize yields so we can increase profits to the grower," she said.

Other goals include discovering new varieties that use nitrogen more efficiently and adapt to drought conditions better, and developing cropping systems that allow growers to apply inputs more efficiently.

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