Washington State University has appointed Dr. Desmond Layne, a professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, to the new position of tree fruit extension team leader. He will start his new job on February 1. The position was created after Washington apple and pear growers voted last year to pay a special assessment to support additional research and extension at WSU. This is the first of five new extension and technology transfer positions to be created.
Layne’s responsibility will be to lead WSU’s tree fruit extension and outreach activities. Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences, estimates that about 30 university faculty have full or partial extension appointments relating to tree fruits.
Layne will be based at the Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. Filling this position was the top priority identified by the industry endowment advisory committee, which is advising WSU on how the new funds raised through the assessment should be spent. “The industry folks really believe that having one leader that’s responsible for coordinating and building an array of extension activities serving the tree fruit industry is a critical function,” Bernardo said.
He noted that there is no similar position at WSU for any other commodity. Layne’s role will be to help WSU faculty develop a world-class extension and outreach program that is complementary to the university’s world-class research programs. “The most important role is making certain that the technologies and practices and all the research that’s of use to our tree fruit industry hits the orchards and the packing plants as quickly as possible and in a manner in which the information is easily accessible and digestible to the industry.”
Layne currently holds an extension and teaching appointment at Clemson University, where he leads the extension team for horticulture. He also conducts applied research. He has developed a comprehensive extension program for orchardists, using publications, Web posts, meetings, and other types of media to reach his audiences.
“We’re really looking for Des to do exactly what he did with the peach industry in South Carolina,” Bernardo said. “He’s an excellent organizer, facilitator, and leader of people. He’s someone who can lead and galvanize all our efforts into a cohesive program.”
At Clemson, Layne evaluated peach advanced selections and cultivars for the commercial peach industry. His Web site helps growers know the characteristics of varieties they might choose to plant. He maintains varieties at the Musser Farm, which is near Seneca, ten miles away from the campus in the city of Clemson, and in the orchards of cooperating growers in the primary peach-producing regions of the state southeast and northeast of Clemson.
His Web site, www.clemson.edu/peach, called Everything About Peaches, is a collection of educational videos, frequently asked questions, and articles. During the last two summers, he created a weekly series of videos called “Peach Picks for South Carolina,” featuring cultivars that perform best in a particular part of the season.
Working with Daniele Bassi at the University of Milan, Italy, Layne compiled The Peach: Botany, Production, and Uses, a comprehensive textbook based on chapters by 49 world authorities from eight countries, including China—the world’s oldest and largest producer.
WSU’s special research assessment on apples and pears is expected to raise $27 million over the next eight years and fund several new endowed research positions. A new pomologist position, also based in Wenatchee, is to be filled soon.