USDA undersecretary encounters research for specialty crops at Prosser

By Seth Truscott

To read the original article, go to the CAHNRS News site or click here.

Learning about WSU work advancing specialty crop agriculture, a delegation of USDA and WSDA leaders joined faculty and leadership at the university’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center and the Walter Clore Center at Prosser, Wednesday, Jan. 31. From left are Leisa Schumaker, Program Manager with WSDA for theSpecialty Crop Block Grant Program; CAHNRS Senior Associate Dean Scot Hulbert; WSU TFREC Director Chad Kruger; Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean Wendy Powers; IAREC Director Naidu Rayapati; USDA Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt; and WSDA Directpr Derek Sandison.

Scientists at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (IAREC) at Prosser welcomed Jenny Lester Moffitt, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, alongside WSDA Director Derek Sandison and Wendy Powers, the Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean of CAHNRS, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024.

The undersecretary’s visit highlighted WSU research supported by USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and its impact on Washington agriculture. Faculty briefed Moffitt on block-grant funded efforts at the center, including smart technology and automation, virus-free plants, biotic and abiotic stresses, and training the next generation of scientists and professionals, and discussed climate and crop resiliency.

“Through support from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the center is helping grow Washington’s economy and global competitiveness and preparing the competent next-generation workforce to meet the needs of modern agriculture,” said center Director Naidu Rayapati. “This is a critical program for Washington’s agricultural resiliency, and IAREC will continue seeking funds from this program for impactful contributions to irrigated agriculture that benefit the many communities we serve.”

Center faculty are highly successful at putting block grant funding to work in research that crosses disciplines and in stakeholder partnerships, Rayapati added. During the visit, he shared the history and mission of IAREC, founded in 1919, its ongoing university, state, and federal collaboration, and continuing partnerships with Hispanic student-serving institutions in the Yakima Valley, among other endeavors.

Dr. Karkee working with robotic equipment.
Based at IAREC’s CPAAS laboratory, Professor Manoj Karkee develops agricultural robots, such as pruners and harvesters.

IAREC mission

An estimated two-thirds of the agricultural production in the state comes from irrigated land. IAREC is in service to this economic dynamo, housing and supporting research and outreach in food science, entomology, horticulture, plant pathology, crop and soil science, and biological systems engineering.

At the center, a team of WSU faculty, staff, and students from diverse cultures and nationalities works alongside USDA-Agricultural Research Service and WSDA scientists to tackle complex agricultural challenges. The campus is home to the Center for Precision & Automated Agricultural Systems, spurring advances in robotics, precision agriculture, and automation; the Clean Plant Center Northwest, helping maintain disease-free crops for a sustainable future; and AgWeatherNet, a statewide real-time monitoring system that aids agricultural decision-making.

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