WENATCHEE, Wash. — Kate Evans, horticultural professor and apple breeder at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee for the past 11 years, has been selected as the center’s new interim director.
Evans succeeds Jim McFerson on Aug. 26.
Evans, 53, was born and raised in Sheffield, England, and received her doctorate in plant molecular biology from Durham University in England in 1991.
She led an apple and pear breeding program at East Malling Research in England for 16 years before joining the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee in 2008 to succeed Bruce Barritt as apple breeder.
Barritt was the center’s first apple breeder and held the position for 14 years during which, in 1997, he bred the WA 38 now known as the Cosmic Crisp, a cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise. It debuts in limited volume in grocery stores this December.
Evans took over from Barritt in the final stages of the apple’s development. The industry has high hopes of it becoming the state’s flagship apple.
Evans also developed DNA testing for fruit quality at the center, which was in its infancy when she arrived. The center was the first in the world to use DNA testing for apple breeding while European programs first applied it in disease resistance.
“With almost three decades of experience managing agricultural research that puts better varieties in growers’ hands, Kate has clearly demonstrated her ability to share and deliver the kind of valuable knowledge that’s at the core of the WSU Tree Fruit mission,” said André Denis Wright, dean of WSU College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.
“She understands the needs and challenges that our growers face, and has the scientific and leadership abilities to direct the tree fruit research team as they work to support Northwest producers,” Wright said.
“The Pacific Northwest fruit industry is one of the largest in the world, and our growers depend on WSU research for better plants, practices, and ideas,” Evans said. “As a scientist, it’s been exciting for me to help breed new varieties ideally suited for our growing conditions, market needs, and consumer preferences. Now, as interim center director, I’ll support WSU research that boosts the health and potential of our fruit economy.”
She said WSU plans to search, possibly internally, for a new permanent director in 2020 and that she will continue as breeder with a little extra help.
McFerson, 68, was hired in 2015 as a non-tenure horticultural professor and center director. His contract expires Aug. 26. Previously, he was director of Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in Wenatchee.
“Jim has provided strong direction and served the state well as director at Wenatchee,” Wright said. “He helped strengthen the bridge between industry and WSU research. We are grateful for his service, and wish him well in the next stage of his career.”
“I have been so gratified to contribute to research and stakeholder-focused activities supporting our tree fruit industry,” he said.
The industry’s $32 million endowment gift to WSU is resulting in new positions and facilities to help the center remain world-class and it has an exciting future with new scientists, new facilities and Evans as its new director, he said.
Launched in 1937, the WSUTFREC is home to collaborative research by WSU and USDA scientists exploring all phases of orchard culture, including breeding, pest control, fruit harvesting and handling, fruit maturity, storage, grading and packaging, as well as the basic science of plant physiology, entomology, plant pathology, soil science, horticulture, economics and biochemistry.