Steve Renquist

Steve Renquist, the Oregon State University Extension Service horticulture agent for Douglas County, helped the county Master Gardeners develop the Discovery Garden. The garden has several areas, including a Japanese garden.

ROSEBURG, Ore. — In his 21 years as the Oregon State University Extension Service horticulture agent for Douglas County, Steve Renquist has seen a major expansion of the area’s agricultural industries.

Renquist was hired for the position in 2000 and since then he has helped large and small crop and orchard growers while visiting their properties, providing written information from Oregon State University scientific research and by teaching educational classes.

In those 21 years, winegrape acreage in Douglas County has grown from 400 acres to 3,800. Hazelnut orchards expanded from 25 acres to almost 600. Blueberry acreage increased from about 75 to 800.

Renquist said there’s also been growth in nursery and greenhouse production, and the Master Gardener program has increased to a membership of about 250.

“My role has been to help out in the fields with information, but also in marketing the area,” Renquist said. “There’s been bumps in the growth along the way, but we’ve worked those out.”

At age 71, Renquist has decided it’s time for a younger person to advise and help crop, nursery and orchard growers in Douglas County. He retired at the end of December.

The horticulture agent said there have been many developments in agricultural programs and equipment that run off technological advances.

“A guy like me, when I was in college, we didn’t even have a computer, we wrote it down on paper,” he said. “It’s time to turn this over to some young person who probably has some technology in their skills that I haven’t had.”

Before Renquist came to Douglas County, he had earned a bachelor’s degree in tree fruit science from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in California and then a master’s degree in pest management from that same school. His first job was with the Cornell Extension Service in Wayne County, N.Y.

In the mid-1970s, he was selected to a 12-person team for an exchange program in agriculture with the Soviet Union. He spent 2½ years in that country, studying different crops and orchards on a variety of farms in different regions.

After returning to the U.S., he worked as a crop forecaster and traveled in the states and to Europe and South America to look at crops and make production estimates.

When Renquist and his wife, Cida, were ready for a more settled life, he saw the listing for the extension position in Douglas County.

“I liked what I saw out here,” said Renquist of his initial thoughts about the county. “When I looked at the job description back then, this county didn’t have a very significant horticulture industry. It was diverse, but production was pretty small.”

Earl Jones, co-owner of Abacela Winery near Winston, Ore., said he appreciated the knowledge Renquist brought to the county.

“He has a world of experience and to bring that kind of perspective from those other countries to Douglas County was of great value,” Jones said. “Steve’s greatest value was one-on-one, standing in your vineyard, trying to figure out what was going on. That’s where he was extremely useful.”

The horticulture agent also proved to be a valuable mentor to the county’s Master Gardener program and its members. He and the gardeners developed the Discovery Garden and the Victory Garden on county-owned ground. Renquist used the Discovery Garden and its different areas of focus as a classroom with subjects such as plant identification, soil testing and pruning. There are educational signs throughout the garden.

“Without a doubt, it’s the nicest Master Gardener developed garden in the state,” Renquist said. “People walking through can stop, look and read, and learn something.”

The Victory Garden focuses on growing vegetables. Those gardeners donated 9,000 pounds of produce to a food bank in 2021.

“I’ve been able to be here during a time of nice growth in the agricultural industry and in the Master Gardener program,” he added. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

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