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New clean plant center director works to protect NW crops

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

PROSSER, Wash. – As new director of the Clean Plant Center Northwest, Scott Harper will help growers stop devastating crop viruses before they gain a foothold. His top priority is to grow the Northwest’s supply of virus-free fruit trees, vines and hops.

“The front line of the battle against viruses is clean material,” said Harper, hired Jan. 3 to run the center (http://cpcnw.wsu.edu/), which is located at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (http://iarec.wsu.edu/) in Prosser. “Once viruses are in, it’s very difficult to slow them down.”

A virologist and former scientist and regulator at New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center, he was hired following an international search that drew heavily on industry input.

Expanding research, diagnostics, plant database

Founded in 1961, the Clean Plant Center Northwest safeguards more than 1,800 fruit tree, grapevine and hop selections from viruses in insect-proof greenhouses. Last year, staff distributed more than 13,700 grapevine cuttings, 6,500 fruit tree buds, 1,800 hop cuttings and dozens of grape and hop plants to nurseries and growers across the country.

Chardonnay grapes.

Harper plans to expand the center’s diagnostic service, build research and develop a clean plant database for growers.

“I want to build the program into one of the best in the country,” he said.

He is meeting with growers across the state and encourages producers to share their plant health concerns with the center in advance of spring virus testing.

A partner with fruit, wine, hop industries

“This is a big job that is important to growers, and that makes it important to WSU,” said Scot Hulbert, chair of the WSU Department of Plant Pathology.

“Our goal was to find a strong scientist and effective manager who would partner with stakeholders to come up with solutions,” said Kate Woods, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council and search committee member. “With the center’s role providing quarantine services for imported plants, Dr. Harper’s regulatory experience is a valued bonus.”

“The Washington wine grape industry’s access to clean plants is one of the single most important contributors to successful growth,” said Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.

“As we move into an era of uncertain federal support, we look forward to exploring new approaches to funding to maintain a strong and effective clean stock program,” said Ann George, executive director of the Washington Hop Commission.

“Scott has good ideas and is willing to collaborate for success,” said Rick Hamman, search committee member and viticulture manager for Hogue Ranches.

 

News media contact:
Scott Harper, Clean Plant Center Northwest, 509-786-9230, scott.harper@wsu.edu

 

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