CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Steve Fransen

We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.

Steve Fransen
Steve Fransen

Today we’re showcasing Steve Fransen, research agronomist and WSU Extension Specialist in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser. Here are his answers to a few questions:

Where are you from?

I was born and raised on a farm in north central Montana. We raised livestock and wheat in my younger years, then sold the cow-calf herd and went to full time small grain and oil seed crops farming. I learned valuable lessons of hard work, long hours, working with Mother Nature rather than trying to fight her, and learned how difficult and expensive it is to produce the food, feed, and fiber Americans and many people around the world, enjoy every day.

Where did you go to school?

My undergraduate degree in 1973 was in Agronomy from Montana State University at Bozeman, MT. I followed that with a MS in Agronomy also from MSU in 1975. From there I worked at Kansas State University at a research center for three years where I worked with a beef nutritionist and dairy nutritionist and learned about warm-season grasses, the tall grass prairie and crops like milo and soybeans. That experience allowed me to focus interests into forages and livestock integration. In 1978 I started on a Ph.D. program at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD, which I completed in agronomy in 1982. This allowed investigations into pasture and livestock integration on native ranges in the central part of the state. The 1982 national recession restricted employment opportunities but I did secure a teaching position at Fort Hays State University in Hays, KS with the responsibility to teach six different courses. That was great fun but I needed to continue conducting forage research. That opportunity came when being offered a forage research and state Extension specialist position at WSU-Puyallup in 1983. My work in Puyallup focused on forages for westside dairies. In 2000, I accepted a transfer to WSU-Prosser to help Yakima and Columbia Basin producers on hay and bioenergy issues while maintaining support for westside producers and Extension agents.

How did you become interested in your field?

As an undergraduate at MSU, I had an opportunity to work with two professors on campus during the summer. That opened my eyes to numerous possibilities of agriculture and became the basis for my love of forage crops, how to manage these, how the quality changes so rapidly and the impacts of those changes on animal performance. I enjoy the integration of crops and animals, often considering a similar response must happen in humans as it does in our food-bearing animals with the relationships with the feedstuffs they consume. Working at KSU provide opportunities to evaluate forage crops I could only read about. That was tons of fun and furthered my commitment to this area of ag. At WSU, and working with the WA dairy industry, reinforced the importance of forage quality and impacts on animal performance. This translates to haymking in the Basin and feedstocks for bioenergy production.

Why did you want to become a professor?

My goal was, and is, to provide producers with the best information possible so they can make the best decisions for their farms. Each farm is totally unique, just like every undergraduate and graduate student. Time is the most limiting factor for all of us so we try to learn quickly, apply thoroughly, monitor and respond accordingly. The mass and availability of knowledge today is so great in life and all aspects of forage crops. But we have to choose what is important, what to use and what to do with the information. The foundation of all the past great research, provides us with the solid principles we work with today. This becomes our launching pad for continued knowledge building in the future. Integration of this knowledge is the basis for learning, decision making and societal progress in the farming community as well as students of all ages.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

I have been so fortunate to work with juniors, seniors, and graduate students for over thirty years. Students keep you honest! Students ask great questions as they search for fulling and complete answers. No different than innovative producers who need to solve a problem right now. With producers we often find a more rapid response because of the shorter timeline in crop and livestock production cycles. With students it takes longer for the seeds of knowledge we plant in their minds to mature and solve problems but those seeds are present when the student needs to recall that information. Seeing students succeed is totally awesome and provides a teacher with a profound, lasting legacy. I enjoy working with students who ask questions, who want to learn, who search for truth and answers and finally who challenge themselves to become more than what they thought they could be.

My approach is best described by former Seahawks coach, Chuck Knox. In this autobiography, titled “Hard Knox: The Life of an NFL Coach” he wrote about coaching and training the most talented and expensive athletes in the world. To paraphrase his message, he described holding both hands out in front, palms down, one about shoulder high one waist high. The shoulder high hand represented his level expectations, the waist high was the athletes. The choice was, did he lower his expectations to match the athlete or do the athletes raise their own expectations to match his? Without mentioning this to the Forage Crops 302 students, we worked to raise the students own expectations, to challenge them, to learn to take pride in what they have learned, and to learn how to apply this new knowledge. These are the building blocks for the future that is both sustainable and will repay dividends many times over.

What advice would you pass along to students?

Don’t be afraid of the unknown, of the future, of working hard, of learning as much as possible. Be open to see the opportunities and possibilities and building a solid educational foundation will be your launching pad that will be both satisfying to you and your family, now and into the future. Creative minds, spirit and desire are the only things that really holds anyone back. Go for it! Never back off! Never give up! There truly is hope for the future.