Researcher retires after 52 year career

Washington State University researcher Dennis Roe has retired after a 52-year career.

Whenever Dennis Roe wanted to solve a problem, he sought out farmers who were willing to try new things.

“The farmers are closest to the problems they deal with,” he said. “To me, the farmers are the experts and I would try to fill in with what knowledge I could find to help them succeed.”

Roe would help growers explore solutions through field trials, new seeding and tillage methods and introducing rotational crops.

For more than a half a century, he worked with farmers to resolve the challenges facing them. Roe, 75, retired Nov. 1 due to health reasons.

“I developed an illness that has not been diagnosed,” he said. “That’s the reason I have retired, otherwise I would have continued.”

Roe was raised in Goldendale, Wash., on a wheat, cattle and alfalfa hay farm. He was the fourth generation on the farm, farming with his father for about 10 years.

He graduated from Washington State University in 1966 in agricultural economics. He worked for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, originally called the USDA Soil Conservation Service, for 42 years at the Colfax, Wash., field office, retiring in 2009.

He then began working for WSU’s crop and soil sciences department, helping develop spring and winter canola as a rotation crop.

He considers his most satisfying accomplishment to be a reduction in soil erosion on dryland farms in the Pacific Northwest, through crop rotations and improved seeding methods.

“Soil erosion was bad enough when I started here that farmers would not be able to harvest their crops in a regular pattern, but had to go around gulleys that they couldn’t cross with combines, that’s how serious it was,” he said. “That’s not an issue anymore.”

Roe’s impact on growers has been “bottomless,” said Karen Sowers, WSU Extension outreach specialist.

“He’s just a reliable, trustworthy, knowledgeable and friendly individual, and has a wide range of knowledge about farming, since he has farmed and worked with farmers for 50 years,” Sowers said. “He’s been a mentor to many, whether it’s a farmer, an industry person or even somebody at church.”

“If you want to know someone that is the true conservationist, knows every farmer in his region and beyond and has a true long-term passion for conservation and sustainable and sustaining agriculture — this is Dennis Roe,” said Stephen Van Vleet, WSU Extension regional specialist in Colfax. “Dennis has been an advocate for farmers and has worked two careers to make sure our farmers were well taken care of.”

Roe understood the challenges farmers face in shifting their practices, and helped them overcome the agronomic, business and policy hurdles to make changes, said Bill Pan, a WSU professor, scientist and extension specialist.

“Dennis had an incredible memory of farmers he worked with across the region,” Pan said. “I marveled at his ability for instant recall of details of family farms, practices and anecdotes that stretched way back to when he was a child. Everyone commented that a roadtrip with Dennis was a great lesson on Eastern Washington agriculture.”

Roe said he is grateful to the farmers he worked with over the years. He recommends farmers watch their neighbors and attend tours and field days to get ideas that might work for them. He recommends starting small, on an acre at first.

“The innovators have been remarkable in how they have picked up ideas and tried them on their own farm,” he said.

Roe also thanks Eileen, his wife of 52 years.

A celebration of Roe’s career will be 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 27 in the Ensminger Pavilion on the WSU campus in Pullman. RSVP to Tami Nordquist at by Nov. 20.

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