Canola field

Canola blooms in a field north of Pendleton, Ore. Isaac Madsen is the new oil seed agronomist for Washington State University Extension.

When Isaac Madsen helped plant spring canola variety trials earlier this year, he had no idea he'd later be taking on a leadership role.

Madsen began Sept. 1 as Washington State University's new oilseed cropping systems extension agronomist, based in Pullman.

"I had worked really closely with everybody on the team," he said. "Either way, even if I hadn't gotten the position, I would be helping somebody else transition into it."

He replaces Karen Sowers, who departed to work as executive director of the Pacific Northwest Canola Association.

"Isaac’s involvement with the Washington Oilseeds Cropping Systems project as a grad student and post-doc are a definite bonus for transitioning in to the extension agronomist position," Sowers told the Capital Press. "He is well-connected in the ag and canola community and I am confident he will be a great asset to the WOCS project in the coming years."

Madsen said his position is primarily extension, but now includes research and teaching responsibilities. 

Madsen would particularly like to study canola stand establishment and winter survival further, particularly to help farmers save on seed costs.

"If you can actually get more of your seeds up and doing their jobs, that's better," he said.

Madsen received his bachelor's and Ph.D. degrees at WSU. He was doing post-doctorate work when the position became open. Oilseeds featured in his work, he said, looking at bionutrients and root growth, particularly with canola and flax.

Madsen was drawn to the chance to work with farmers, hear their ideas and develop research plans and innovative practices.

"I think that's the thing I'm most excited about, that opportunity to build relationships and cooperate with all farmers, but especially the ones that are really trying some crazy new ideas, I really like that," he said.

Oilseeds provide crop diversification to a region that grows wheat particularly well, helping to ease insect or disease problems, Madsen said.

Oilseeds have tap-roots, which are a single root that goes deep into the soil. A wheat plant has five or six roots. Tap-rooted crops offer several advantages, including creating holes in the soil to improve water infiltration.

Madsen grew up in Portland. A city kid by birth, he originally intended to study literature, but wanted to do something useful. He was also considering medicine, but fell in love with the science of agriculture. He worked for a farm in the Columbia Basin as an intern, then returned to WSU, where he got involved in dryland agriculture.

Large-scale variety trials and winter workshops are his next big efforts, he said.

Madsen said he is available to farmers. He'd like to hear their research priorities based on their experiences in the field.

He's also interested in winter canola grazing and inter-cropping canola with peas.

"If anybody's down for trying some crazy ideas, I have lots of crazy ideas," he said with a laugh.

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