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Wolf Prize, Transportation, Stemless Cherry

Posted by | March 9, 2011

WSU Plant Pathologist James Cook Wins Prestigious Wolf Prize

Jim Cook, standing in front of the research farm named in his honor. Photo by Dennis Brown/WSU
Jim Cook, standing in front of the research farm named in his honor. Photo by Dennis Brown/WSU

James Cook, former dean of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and emeritus professor of plant pathology and crop and soil sciences, will be awarded the Wolf Prize for Agriculture. The Wolf Prizes, awarded annually by the Israel-based Wolf Foundation, are given in agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics and the arts, in order to promote science and the arts for the benefit of humankind.

Cook will share the $100,000, 2011 prize with Harris A. Lewin of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Laureates receive their awards from the President of the State of Israel. The prize presentation takes place at a special ceremony at the Knesset Building (Israel´s Parliament), in Jerusalem on May 23.

WSU President Elson S. Floyd said, “This is truly an outstanding and well-deserved honor. Jim Cook is, without question, one of the finest research scientists in the history of our university, and this honor shows once again that he is held in equally high esteem by his peers around the world. I can’t imagine a better choice for this award and I extend my heartiest congratulations to Dr. Cook.”

Cook said he received a phone call early in the morning informing him that he had won the prize. “My first reaction was one of being overwhelmed,” he said. “I was hollering with joy and woke my wife up. It doesn’t get much better than this. To be in the company of people who have won this prize in the past is fantastic.

“All the work that led to this was done at WSU. I’m deeply grateful to my many research colleagues who helped me do the best science I could. Our goal was always to work at the cutting edge but then to apply that research to the real world, so I worked with a lot of great farmers, too, who were our partners in science.”

The prize description states that Cook is being acknowledged “for seminal discoveries in plant pathology and soil microbiology that impact crop productivity and disease management. Through an understanding of the factors that impact the ecology of pathogenic and non-pathogenic microbes. Professor Cook´s work has improved disease control in wheat and barley and altered paradigms of plant disease control in other crops.”

Dan Bernardo, the current dean of CAHNRS, said, “This is truly a testament to a wonderful career. Jim continues to inspire us! I frequently use Jim’s program as an example of one that provides a scientist international acclaim for scientific contributions and immediate impact in helping agriculture. Jim has demonstrated, beyond a doubt, if that you are intentional in addressing each of these goals day in and day out, they can both be achieved at the highest level.”

A longer version of this story, including more details about why Cook is being awarded the Wolf Prize and high-resolution photos of Jim Cook, are on the CAHNRS News Web site at http://bit.ly/h99yHq.

For more information about the Wolf Prize, please see http://bit.ly/gokwdd.

WSU Economist Finds Nation’s Railcar Fleet in Jeopardy, Impacting Environment and Shipments of Goods

The report was prepared with financial support of the North America Freight Car Association, the industry trade association of rail car manufacturers, freight car lessors, lessees, and railcar owners who own or operate the majority of freight cars in North America
The report was prepared with financial support of the North America Freight Car Association, the industry trade association of rail car manufacturers, freight car lessors, lessees, and railcar owners who own or operate the majority of freight cars in North America.

The nation’s $90 billion fleet of privately owned freight railway cars may be in jeopardy, according to a new report released recently by the Transportation Research Group in Washington State University’s School of Economics. The fleet is integral to the efficient movement of goods by rail and drastically reduces the environmental impact of shipping by eliminating the equivalent of 30 million truck shipments a year. The report finds that private owners of railway freight cars may not be making high enough returns to justify their continued investment in the cars.

The report, “Economic and Environmental Benefits of Private Railcars in North America,” was jointly authored by Dr. Thomas M. Corsi, Michelle Smith Professor of Logistics at the Smith School, and Dr. Ken Casavant, Professor of Economics and Director of the Freight Policy Transportation Institute at Washington State University.

Corsi and Casavant find that the poor rates of return for private railcar owners are due in part to changes in the railroad industry’s interchange rules, which have resulted in a number of new rules with major efficiency benefits to the railroads and only marginal safety benefits to the public and private car owners. Nevertheless, the entire significant cost of the new rules has been borne by the private car owners.

Dr. Ken Casavant, Professor of Economics and Director of the Freight Policy Transportation Institute at Washington State University
Dr. Ken Casavant, Professor of Economics and Director of the Freight Policy Transportation Institute at Washington State University

“In the past, railcars were typically owned and operated by railroads, but increasingly, railcars are privately owned these days,” Casavant said.

The report notes that unless there are major changes in process by which new interchange rules are promulgated to more equitably allocate benefits and costs, the economic value of private car ownership will be further eroded and the availability of this capacity will be in doubt with severe consequences to the national economy.

“Interchange rules are those that govern the operating practices of the railroads and that control how trains efficiently exchange railcars,” Casavant said. “From an economic efficiency and welfare point of view, benefit/cost ratios should be calculated for the industry as a whole and distributed in line with the benefits to all parties,” said Corsi. “For the market to work in terms of investment in railcars, there is a need for equitable, non-discriminatory and transparent interchange rules.”

If the freight rail system lost all or part of the privately owned fleet now used to transport a large portion of goods, those commodities and products might be moved to truck transportation. If trucks handled all the traffic now moved in private rail cars, the total cost to clean the pollutants associated with this increased truck traffic is estimated conservatively at $12 billion. The report finds that moving goods using private railcars saves 10 times the hydrocarbon production currently saved by all public transportation.

A full copy of the report is available at http://bit.ly/fhqNBT.

Stemless Cherry Project Reaches Milestones, Launches New Web Site

Life's a bowl of (stemless!) cherries. Sweet, natural, convinient -- and profitable for growers.
Life's a bowl of (stemless!) cherries. Sweet, natural, convenient -- and profitable for growers.

In order to remain competitive in the global market, the world’s biggest sweet cherry producers have banded together to drive innovation along the entire production chain. The molecules-to-market project, called “A total systems approach to developing a sustainable, stem-free sweet cherry production, processing and marketing system,” is just completing its first year of research.

The project’s goals include:

  • Developing high-efficiency, productive angled fruiting wall orchard systems;
  • Establishing the genetic bases for sweet cherry abscission;
  • Improving labor efficiency and safety by developing mechanical and/or mechanical assist harvest technologies;
  • Extending the shelf-life and increasing consumer appeal of sweet cherries;
  • Analyzing system profitability, market potential, and developing economic models for outreach and adoption.

Milestones reached in 2010 include:

  • Establishment of test orchards in California, Oregon and Washington;
  • Phenotyping of cherry cultivars and advanced breeding selections for pedicel-fruit retention force and fruit texture and flavor attributes;
  • Documented expression of known abscission genetic pathways in sweet cherry;
  • Field testing of an upgraded mechanical harvester and other mechanical-assistance equipment.

The stemless cherry project has just launched a new web site, http://bit.ly/gnWRTD, which features research news, videos, photos and the 2010 annual report.