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New Wheat Breeder, Tree Fruit Field Day, Good Bugs, Healthy Forests

Posted by | August 12, 2009

WSU Names New Spring Wheat Breeder

Michael Pumpfrey, a research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Manhattan, Kansas, is WSU’s new spring wheat breeder.

After visiting the Palouse to attend the Spillman Agronomy Farm in July, Pumpfrey made his appointment official earlier this month. He will assume his new responsibilities in January 2010. He succeeds former spring wheat breeder, Professor Kim Kidwell, who is now associate dean of academic programs in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. He joins Arron Carter, who was named WSU’s new winter wheat breeder in July.

“Michael’s appointment completes a new generation of wheat breeders at WSU,” said CAHNRS Dean Dan Bernardo. “His work on emerging issues for the industry, like Ug99 stem rust, will help take an already stellar program to the next level.”

Rich Koenig, chair of the WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, agreed.

He earned his Ph.D. in plant pathology with a focus in genetics and molecular biology in 2007 from Kansas State University. Since then he has worked as a research geneticist enhancing hard winter wheat germplasm at the USDA ARS Plant Science and Entomology Research Unit. He also is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy at Kansas State.


Michael Pumpfrey is WSU’s new spring wheat breeder.

First Annual Field Day Highlights Progress at Sunrise Research Orchard

The first annual field day at WSU’s new Sunrise Research Orchard near Wenatchee last month attracted orchardists from throughout the state and featured presentations on everything from laser-directed orchard machinery to the latest in apple genomics.

“The research that is going to be done here is going to be cutting-edge, high risk research that really can’t be done in cooperation with established growers,” said Jay Brunner, director of the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center here. “We hope this will become a place that sparks interdisciplinary research that benefits the entire specialty crops industry in Washington.”

With the community quickly growing up around its research orchards in Wenatchee, WSU sold that land in 2003 and in the fall of 2006 purchased the 145-acre Sunrise orchard property southeast of town. The old trees were removed, and planting began in spring of 2007. The state’s nursery industry donated more than 30,000 trees; the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Commission provided $500,000 to assist in the development of the orchard as well as in-kind labor. Equipment, such as the Enviromist weed sprayer and four-wheeler used at the orchard, were purchased with funds donated by the Grady and Lily Auvil estate.

“This research orchard would not have been possible without the help and support of key industry partners,” Brunner said.

Currently, 35 acres are planted at the orchard — 30 in apple, four in pear and one in cherry. Another 45 acres are open and available for development; the orchard includes 65 acres certified for organic production.

The WSU farm crew manages day-to-day activities at the orchard, but an advisory team comprised of industry representatives provides input on managing tree growth and training as well as developing the principles and long-range plans for orchard development.

Jay Brunnerdriverless vehicle

Jay Brunner, director of the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, talks about new and ongoing research at WSU’s new research orchard, including a driverless, laser-directed orchard machine (bottom) that has the potential to cut labor costs through automation of routine maintenance tasks.

Learn more about tree fruit research at WSU by visiting:

Getting to Know the Good Guys – Entomologically Speaking

Researchers and orchardists know quite a bit about the major pests in tree fruit systems, but what about the natural enemies of those pests? Scientists at WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee are working to learn more about these beneficial bugs in an effort to better leverage them in pest control.

“Understanding how many, where and when natural predators are in the orchard is extremely important to building an effective biocontrol system,” said Shawn Steffan, a post-doctoral research associate working with WSU researcher Vince Jones. Steffan was a presenter at the first-ever field day at the WSU’s Sunrise Research Orchard southeast of Wenatchee last month.

One aspect of Steffan’s work is using new ways to lure natural predators into the orchard, including a chemical “cocktail” that lures a variety of good insects, including green lacewings, parasitic wasps and hoverflies. Lacewings spend much of their lives in the orchard tree canopy and attack codling moth eggs and larvae before they make it into the fruit.

Another facet of the research entails measuring when beneficial insects are most prevalent in the orchard. “There are windows of time in the cycle of your orchard when you’d like to spray for key pests, but knowing when their natural enemies are present in high numbers can help refine that spray cycle to make it more precise and more powerful,” Steffan said.

The work presented at the field day is part of a large specialty crops research initiative grant led by WSU that involves scientists from USDA–ARS in Wapato, Oregon State University and the University of California, Berkeley. This research team is exploring a range of different ways to enhance biological control in Western orchards, including evaluating the sub-lethal effects of some orchard chemicals on natural predators. “What we’re looking at is whether exposure to those chemicals changes their longevity and fecundity,” Steffan said.

He noted that research by team member Tom Unruh (USDA-ARS Wapato) also includes analyzing the gut contents of ground beetles to see how often codling moth larvae get eaten when they leave the apples to pupate on the lower tree trunk or in ground litter. “Ground beetles really are the lions and tigers of the orchard floor,” Steffan said.

Shawn Steffangreen lacewine

Shawn Steffan is a WSU post-doc working on understanding natural predators (such as the green lacewing, bottom) to design effective biocontrol systems for orchards.

Learn more about tree fruit entomology research at WSU by visiting:

Knowledge Is Key to Maintaining a Healthy Forest

Maintaining a healthy and thriving small acreage family forest requires knowledge, planning and action.

About 500 small forest landowners turned out for the two-day Western Washington Forest Owners Field Day in early August in Skagit County to gain the knowledge necessary to plan for and improve their family forest plots.

The field days have been held twice annually in eastern and western Washington since 1997, sponsored by a partnership of WSU Extension, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Family Forest Foundation. This is the first time the event has been held in Skagit County.

Participants attended classes on topics ranging from plant identification, proper tree spacing, creating wildlife habitat, forest thinning, and proper use and maintenance of chain saws and other tools. This year’s field day even included a class on cultivating and harvesting shiitake mushrooms.

Kevin Zobrist, WSU Snohomish County Extension forest stewardship educator, says that surveys of participants in programs like this indicate that they apply what they learn to improve the health of their forestlands.

“Our surveys indicate that 80 to 90 percent of those who attend our forest stewardship education programs actually change how they manage their forest acreage within a year,” says Zobrist.

Those attending also learn about the resources available to help them maintain the health of their forestlands. For example, the DNR offers a variety of programs to assist family forest owners, including free on-site analysis and management advice.

For those wanting more in depth information on maintaining their forest acreage, WSU King County Extension is offering its Forest Stewardship Coached Planning workshop series beginning in September in Issaquah. During the nine-week course, participants will get detailed information on good forest management practices and will develop their own personalized forest stewardship plans. A state-approved stewardship plan qualifies forestland for the designation of Stewardship Forest, which may also qualify owners of five or more wooded acres for significant property tax reductions.

chain saw demo

A representative from Stihl chainsaw teaches a safety course at forest-owner field days.

More information is available at or by contacting Kevin Zobrist at 425-357-6017. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is online at