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WSU hires world leader in tree fruit horticulture extension

WENATCHEE, Wash. – One of the world’s leading experts in tree fruit horticulture extension, Desmond R. Layne, is joining the faculty at Washington State University. Layne will be the first to hold one of WSU’s newest endowed chairs funded by the state’s tree fruit industry through their historic partnership with WSU and gift to the WSU Campaign for Tree Fruit.

Desmond Layne
Desmond Layne

Layne, currently the state extension horticulture program leader and extension fruit specialist at Clemson University in South Carolina, will begin his new responsibilities in February 2013. He will be located at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center at Wenatchee.

“Desmond Layne literally sets the national bar for how to deliver scientific information to producers through extension,” said Dan Bernardo, vice president for agriculture and extension at WSU. “His use of online technology and media brings a whole new approach to providing producers with the information they need when they need it.”

WSU Extension Director Rich Koenig agreed. “Dr. Layne has an international reputation for excellence in both developing and delivering the results of cutting-edge research to the tree fruit industry, especially in peaches,” Koenig said. “His hiring is another step in WSU’s systematic and strategic investment in the research and outreach necessary to support the state’s tree fruit industry.”

Layne said he is excited about coming to Washington. “I am delighted to join the world-renowned WSU tree fruit team and to positively contribute to its growth and impact toward meeting the challenges and pursuing innovative opportunities to help the Washington tree fruit industry in the future,” he said.

“I am particularly impressed with the industry’s level of innovation and the strong partnership that they have forged with WSU,” he said. “At a time when many land-grant universities are experiencing cutbacks and reducing investment in extension, WSU is expanding and growing – especially in the area of tree fruit research and extension. Indeed, exciting things are happening at WSU.”

Canadian by birth, Layne started work in fruit crops as a teenager, working on tree fruit farms in southern Ontario adjacent to Lake Erie. While a horticulture student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, he assisted his father’s tree fruit breeding and cultural management program at Agriculture Canada and one summer worked as an integrated pest management scout for fruit crops for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

He said this experience was pivotal in his decision to pursue graduate education with the goal of conducting research and extension to help fruit farmers as a career.

His graduate work at Michigan State University focused on orchard management and environmental stress physiology of tart cherry. He later spent four years at Kentucky State University conducting research to develop the native-American pawpaw as a new fruit crop and potential high value alternative crop for farmers seeking to diversify away from tobacco. He remains an international authority on the pawpaw and serves on the Board of Directors for the nonprofit PawPaw Foundation.

Since 1997, Layne has been on the horticulture faculty at Clemson. He has diverse responsibilities to address the research and extension needs of the South Carolina peach industry. His research focus has been orchard systems management and new cultivar evaluation and development.

Layne is the state peach specialist and serves the 17,000-plus-acre peach industry with on-farm demonstration projects, educational programming and on-site consultations. In 2008, he was named “Outstanding Extension Educator of the Year” – a national career award presented by the American Society for Horticultural Science.

He is the state program team leader for horticulture and supervises 25 county extension agents with primary responsibility for horticulture. He has led the team since its inception in 2006.

Layne is co-project director on the 2009 funded U.S. Department of Agriculture-SCRI research project entitled “Tree Fruit GDR: Translating Genomics into Advances in Horticulture.” His popular, searchable online peach germplasm evaluation database includes data from multiple locations over 12 years. It includes evaluation of more than 350 cultivars and advanced selections of peach and nectarine from around the world.

Layne also is an international authority on the peach and has given invited presentations all around the U.S., Canada and numerous times in China, the native home of the peach. He is serving on the scientific committee for the VIII International Peach Symposium (June 17-20, 2013) in Matera, Italy. He was an invited speaker for the XXII Congresso Brasileiro de Fruticultura (Brazilian Congress of Fruit Crops), Bento Goncalves City, Rio Grande do Sul State, Brazil, Oct. 22.

He recently conducted two separate, two-week USAID-sponsored training programs for peach growers in the Republic of Georgia. He has been instrumental over the last three years in training South Carolina National Guardsmen about fruit cultivation for Afghanistan. These soldiers are deployed as part of an “agriculture development team” with the U.S. Army.

In 2010, Layne launched a new, comprehensive and popular educational website, “Everything About Peaches” (http://www.clemson.edu/peach). It was awarded the 2011 national “Best Website” award for the American Society for Horticultural Science. He has created or participated in more than 50 online educational videos on YouTube with nearly 40,000 views.

He has been interviewed more than 180 times in the popular press. He has given 17 interviews for state or national radio. He has given more than 170 invited educational presentations.

In December 2011, Layne received the Rowland P. Alston, Sr. Award for Excellence in Public Relations at Clemson University. In 2012, he received the national NACAA Communications Award for the category of Audio Recordings for his interview on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program. He also has been interviewed for other national stories covered on the front page of the New York Times and watched on the CBS Early Show.

He is past president of the American Pomological Society. Since 2005, he has been a contributing editor and the regular stone fruit columnist for the American Fruit Grower magazine.

In 2008, along with co-editor Daniele Bassi from the University of Milano, Italy, he completed the most comprehensive textbook on peach ever written, entitled “The Peach: Botany, Production, and Uses” for CAB International in the U.K. This 615-page text includes 22 chapters written by 49 international authorities from nine countries. The book features, for the first time in the English language, a history of cultivation and production trends in China, with historical references dating back to 1100 B.C. It has a color plate section with nearly 300 color photos.