As a weed scientist and superintendent of the University of Idaho Kimberly Research and Extension Center, Don Morishita has spent nearly 30 years working with associates to provide the information growers need on crop production.
“I enjoy everything that goes into making food,” Morishita said.
His expertise, however, lies in a frustrating aspect of agriculture — weeds.
In that arena, he has performed more than 1,600 experiments to help growers control the unwelcome pests and improve farming practices.
“I think we learned something from every study we did … certainly some more than others,” he said.
But his days of field trials are coming to a close, as he’ll be trading in his applicator for a fishing pole at the end of April.
It’s been an interesting and rewarding career, he said.
He grew up on a small farm in Osgood in eastern Idaho with three older brothers. Neither he nor his brothers wanted to take over the farm when their father quit farming and took a job as the county weed superintendent.
“I wouldn’t have been able to survive as a farmer; I didn’t have the guts or the nerve,” he said.
He graduated from Utah State University and attended graduate school at the University of Idaho.
His first job after completing his Ph.D. was at Kansas State University.
“It was a wonderful opportunity, but we really missed the West,” he said of himself and his wife, Betsy, who grew up in Denver.
After four years in Kansas, an opportunity opened up at the University of Idaho. The emphasis of that position was to help sugar beet growers more effectively control weeds — their No. 1 challenge.
There weren’t many herbicides registered for use in sugar beets and the ones that were injured the crop. He and his associates worked on the timing of herbicide applications, sprayer calibration and application rates to lessen the damage.
“The things we did I felt helped the growers,” he said.
When Roundup Ready sugar beets came into the picture, it changed the landscape entirely. While weeds were no longer a big issue, preventing weed resistance was, and Morishita’s work in sugar beets evolved.
Roundup Ready meant growers could spray glyphosate herbicide on weeds without hurting the crop.
His research has been extensive, covering weed control not only in sugar beets but dry beans, small grains and field corn. He also studied the effectiveness of direct seeding, herbicides, tillage methods, cover crops, seeding rates, row spacing and herbicide resistance.
Industry input and cooperation have always been a part of Morishita’s research. There’s been a sharing of information and learning on both sides of the equation, and it’s enabled university researchers to deal with upcoming challenges, he said.
“I’ve always admired these farmers for their ingenuity and creativity,” he said.
“Probably the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is working with other agriculture professionals, including farmers and crop consultants,” he said.
In the superintendent’s role, working with staff and faculty has been “very rewarding and also challenging, but in a positive way,” he said.
And he’s been fortunate to work with great technicians, whose interest in science was more important than the pay, he said.
One event he’s especially proud of is the success of the center’s biennial Twilight Tour, which began in 2004. The tour is an opportunity to share the center’s research with the university’s non-agricultural stakeholders. It has grown from about 100 attendees to more than 600.
“All of us here at Kimberly have pitched in on this,” he said.
He has also shared the center’s research through presentations across the country and in China, France, Ukraine, Belgium and the Czech Republic.
Morishita’s contributions have been immeasurable, and his retirement is a terrible loss to the bean industry and the university, Andi Woolf-Weibye, executive director of the Idaho Bean Commission, said.
“Whoever comes in (his place) will have big, big shoes to fill,” she said. “He’s always been a great friend to the industry and the Bean Commission. We will absolutely miss working with him.”
Morishita is a valuable asset and a good friend, not just to the bean industry but all of Idaho agriculture, said Don Tolmie, an Idaho bean commissioner.
“He has been a tremendous asset to the agricultural world,” he said.
He’s performed multiple studies on herbicide effectiveness, cropping methods, cover crops and the effectiveness and best use of every chemical licensed for dry beans, he said.
“He’s a joy to work with, very patient, very knowledgeable and just a nice guy to be around,” he said.
Helping sugar beet growers better manage weeds has been a lifelong project for Morishita, said Mark Duffin, longtime executive director of Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association.
He’s also been there through the transition to Roundup Ready sugar beets, helping growers to understand proper practices to prevent herbicide resistance, he said.
“His knowledge and expertise has been invaluable to the industry,” he said.
The Idaho Barley Commission honored Morishita with its Industry Service Award in 2008 for his pioneering work on the Herbicide Resistance/Persistence Tracking System. Since then he has continued to develop important weed-management solutions and systems for Idaho farmers, Laura Wilder, administrator for the Idaho Barley Commission, said.
“Don Morishita has been an outstanding innovator and educator on the war against weeds. His dedication and knowledge have helped countless farmers and others involved in Idaho agriculture over his tenure, and he will be greatly missed,” she said.
Morishita has such a broad knowledge of many crops and the methods to control weeds in them, Glenn Shewmaker, University of Idaho Extension forage specialist, said.
“His attention to scientific detail and concepts and his ability to extend the information in a practical way to producers will be difficult to replace,” he said.
But that attention will be put elsewhere as Morishita moves on to the next chapter in his life.
Top on the list is to do more fishing, one of his passions.
Reflecting on each past year, “I always wished I had gotten out more,” he said.
He doesn’t know how much fishing is “enough,” but he’s looking forward to finding out.
He also plans to travel more and spend more leisurely time in his garden. For the time being, he will continue his extension work with the master gardeners program and with small-acreage farmers on a part-time basis.
A retirement party for Morishita is planned for April 27 at the Turf Club in Twin Falls from 5 to 8 p.m.