MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Thomas W. Walters has joined the staff of Washington State University’s Mount Vernon Northwest Washington Research and Extension Center in the new position of small fruit horticulturist. He began August 1.
Walters is no stranger to the challenges of small fruit horticulture in Northwest Washington. For the past seven years he has worked in the field for Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. in Burlington, Wash. While with Sakuma Brothers, Walters was responsible for research supporting nursery and fruit production on more than 500 acres in Washington state, and for strawberry nursery production of 180 million plants annually in California.
“We’re pleased to have Tom joining our research and extension staff, particularly since he’s already familiar with the region and knows many of the area’s small fruit growers,” says NWREC interim director Debbie Inglis. “Filling this new position is a major step in the expansion of the center and its mission to serve agriculture in Northwest Washington and across the state.”
Walters says one exciting aspect of the position is that he will be working with small fruit growers statewide.
“I’ve gotten to know the industry in the northwest part of the state, but growing conditions vary widely across the state so I’m excited about gaining a statewide perspective,” says Walters. “It’s pretty neat.”
Walters says he’s interested in improving plant physiology, particularly in raspberries and blueberries, to make them more suitable for mechanical harvest, which will reduce production costs for growers. His research will also focus on ways to extend the growing season through growing techniques and introducing new varieties, and in improving yields and quality through better irrigation management.
Walters earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University with an emphasis on field plant breeding, and holds a B.A. in biology from Reed College in Portland, Ore.
Washington state has more than 13,000 acres in small fruit production, leads the nation in the production of raspberries and ranks fifth in strawberry production and sixth in blueberries. Most of the state’s small fruit production is located in the five-county area surrounding the NWREC, and production is expanding in other parts of the state.
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