World-renowned Italian pomologist to fill endowed research chair at WSU

WENATCHEE, Wash. – Stefano Musacchi, an internationally recognized leader in pomology (the science of fruit and fruit growing), will join the faculty at Washington State University in August 2013 as the endowed chair in tree fruit physiology/management. The chair is funded by the state’s apple and pear growers through their historic partnership with WSU by investing $27 million to expand tree fruit research and extension as part of the Campaign for WSU.

Pomologist Stefano Musacchi
Pomologist Stefano Musacchi

Musacchi is assistant professor in the University of Bologna’s Department of Fruit Tree and Woody Plant Sciences. He is familiar with tree fruit production in the Pacific Northwest, having visited the region as a consulting visiting scientist numerous times in his 20-plus-year career.

“Bringing Stefano to Washington further solidifies the region’s status as an international leader in tree fruit production and research,” said Dan Bernardo, vice president for agriculture and extension at WSU. “His experience in orchard systems, fruit physiology and the biochemistry of grafting bring incredible depth and breadth to our already world-class team of tree fruit research and extension experts.”

“Stefano brings experience that will produce immediate benefit to the industry, and growers are excited about being able to put a new emphasis on horticultural research,” said Jim Doornink, chair of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. The commission was established by the state Legislature in 1969 to support research programs benefitting the Washington tree fruit industry.

“The industry has needed a strong generalist in apple and pear horticulture who can hit the ground running and work directly in orchards with growers as well as conduct basic research in the lab,” said Jake Gutzwiler, a cherry grower and quality control manager for Stemilt Growers. “We’re looking to Stefano to coordinate existing research and help identify long-term areas of focus.”

Gutzwiler is chair of the WSU Endowment Advisory Committee which, with WSU administrators and researchers, guides decisions about how to direct funds from the $27 million gift from the tree fruit industry.

“We’ve been developing a list of needs that the industry needs in terms of research and extension,” he said. “We know we need both research and extension leaders.

“We just saw the hiring of Desmond Layne, a leader in the delivery of scientific information to producers through extension,” he said. “With Stefano, we will have two strong leaders to keep research and extension coordinated to focus scientific collaborations on industry challenges.”

“Stefano brings an international component to the Pacific Northwest through extensive formal and informal working relationships with academics and apple and pear industry personnel throughout the United States, Europe, New Zealand, South America and South Africa,” said Rick Knowles, chair of the WSU Department of Horticulture. “He employs both whole-plant and molecular approaches in his research and excels at developing practical solutions to production issues through applied research.

“He brings experience and success in initiating and leading large collaborative projects that are well funded by competitive sources.

“While the endowed position is focused on research, Stefano also brings considerable experience in teaching, which has the potential to greatly enrich the content of courses taught at WSU,” Knowles said. “He is actively engaged in mentoring graduate students and will bring a student with him to WSU.”

“Stefano will be a tremendous addition to the faculty at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee,” said Jay Brunner, director of WSU Wenatchee. “He is a mature scientist whose research is respected around the world. Stefano leads research collaborations across disciplines and has the gift of interacting with growers, understanding their problems and executing studies leading to solutions.

“The arrival of Stefano demonstrates the commitment of WSU to use the investments of the apple and pear industry to hire the best scientists in the world to address the problems facing this critical sector of Washington’s agricultural industry,” he said.

In Bologna, at Italy’s oldest university, Musacchi has an active research program that has attracted almost $4.2 million Euros – about $6 million USD – in funding over the past eight years. He has worked on numerous fruit crops including apple, pear, quince, peach and cherry.

He runs intensive field- and lab-based programs, with projects ranging from applied aspects of propagation, pome and stone fruit training systems and agronomic evaluation of rootstocks and cultivars to basic research focused on the physiological and biochemical mechanisms of graft incompatibility.

His lab has developed model in vitro systems to investigate graft incompatibility. He has more than 110 publications in both English and Italian, including journals, proceedings from national and international conferences and various trade articles.

“I’m excited to be coming to the Pacific Northwest and joining an innovative industry that so strongly supports cutting-edge research,” Musacchi said.