WSU economist Karina Gallardo has had a banner year with several accomplishments, capped off by being elected as the president of the Food Distribution Research Society.

On a daily basis, Gallardo serves as an associate professor and Extension specialist at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center. During the year she also served as a co‑editor of the Journal of the Food Distribution Research Society (FDRS) and received the Patrick J. Byrne Award for Emerging Leadership.

“I’m truly honored by the trust my colleagues have put in me, both as an editor and now as the president elect,” said Gallardo. “And I was so happy to hear I was even nominated for the Byrne Award. It’s gratifying that people recognized the work I’ve done with FDRS.”

As an extension specialist, Gallardo leads a program that helps the Washington agriculture industry remain competitive in products around the world. To do that, she focuses on two things that add value to the state’s ag industry.

First, she looks at technology adoption, producing cost/benefit studies of new technologies.

“Not everyone can afford every new advancement,” Gallardo said. “So when there’s a new development, we talk with growers to show them the costs and benefits of adopting something different.”

That can range from purchasing mechanical harvesters for blueberries or using a new form of pest control, she said.

The second focus for her program is understanding consumer demand of food products.

“We anticipate the value of a new variety of apple, for example,” Gallardo said. “We find out if consumers are willing to pay a premium for a new variety with certain characteristics.”

Her team also estimates investment costs in a new variety. With those two pieces of information, each grower can make an informed decision about what would work best for them.

“Every grower is different, every farm is different,” she said. “We provide general results that are as representative as possible for Washington farmers.”

Gallardo has a bachelor’s degree in food science and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in agricultural economics, giving her a broad knowledge base of the industries she serves.

“Consumers react to produce with different characteristics,” she said. “I can explain those reactions using science. That’s very rewarding.”

She works primarily with the apple industry, but also has worked with blueberry and sweet cherry growers. And recently, she’s added peaches and strawberry industries to her repertoire.

“They aren’t necessarily the largest crops in the state,” Gallardo said. “But advancing industry knowledge can have a big benefit for Washington growers.”

That professional work along with her service to FDRS are what lead her to being voted incoming president and winning the award. She takes over as president of FDRS at their September 2019 conference in Seattle, which she is also organizing.

“It’s a lot of work, but also rewarding,” Gallardo said. “I’m looking forward to growing participation in FDRS and helping get the word out about what we do.”