Deborah Carter is the new technical issues manager for the Northwest Horticultural Council, which is based in Yakima, Washington. She comes to her new job with a strong work ethic and broad chemistry background.
The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, a new associate member of the Hort Council, was a key supporter in the process of creating and funding the position.
Carter, who was hired in January, will work closely with the Hort Council’s Dr. Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs, on a range of technical issues. On a national level, issues include coordinating emergency chemical registration requests to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and obtaining maximum residue levels for pesticides in foreign countries. At the state level, she will work on environmental and pesticide regulations and pest control issues associated with foreign market access.
“Filling the position will allow us to do more work in the technical area for growers, particularly those in Washington State,” said Chris Schlect, president of the Hort Council. “We will be sorting out her talents and expertise in conjunction with those of Mike Willett. This gives us greater ability to represent the Northwest tree fruit industry and Washington growers on a whole variety of things in Olympia and Washington, D.C., including pesticide drift, pesticides in water that may impact endangered species, apple maggot, codling moth, and more.”
Schlect added that the Hort Council and Carter will work closely with other Pacific Northwest tree fruit organizations.
Carter grew up in Ohio without an agricultural background, but her more-than 25-year-career in the chemical industry has touched farmers and tree fruit growers several times. She has worked for international companies like Battelle, Monsanto, and Pace International. At Battelle, she was principal research scientist in their Columbus, Ohio laboratory; while at Monsanto, she was formulation specialist for their crop protection division.
She has a broad chemistry background and has worked on controlled release and micro-encapsulation of pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals as well as with herbicides and seed coatings. While at Monsanto, she was involved in developing their Fieldmaster herbicide, a combination of four active ingredients.
“It was a big deal at the time because no one had combined four active ingredients into one product before,” Carter said.
Nearly five years ago, Carter and her husband moved from St. Louis, Missouri, the headquarters of Monsanto, to Yakima, Washington, to work at the Wapato manufacturing facility for Pace International. As director of research and development, she helped set up a new laboratory to use in developing formulations. Pace specializes in postharvest products for the fruit industry.
Carter has another skill valuable to the tree fruit industry—grant writing. She learned grant writing techniques at Battelle, and launched her own grant writing and consulting business in 2001.
One of Carter’s first tasks at the Hort Council was to work with the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission on a grant to fund a cherry orchard survey in Hood River and Wasco Counties to verify the absence of cherry leaf spot, a fungal disease. This is needed before sweet cherry growers there can export to Australia.
She also helped complete a grant, in collaboration with Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, for continued funding of a project to develop a standardized phytosanitary system to identify pest infestation in apples and stone fruit for export. The industry is working to develop a system that will improve codling moth identification in fruit before it is shipped to Taiwan, helping to avoid detections during arrival inspections that can disrupt and close the market.
She said that one of her strengths is her broad background from working in different industries. “There’s a lot you can learn from other industries. A lot of people get pigeonholed in their own area of expertise. I hope to bring my different experiences to this position.”
Even in her youth, Carter had a love for science and math and was inquisitive about the world around her. Though her father had only a sixth-grade education and her mother did not complete high school, they encouraged her to learn. Six of their seven children graduated from college and are successful in their own area, she added.
“I’ve worked all my life, starting when I was 12 years old,” she said, explaining that tutoring younger children in math was her first paying job. “I had to put myself through school.”
Though she received some scholarships, she worked at a chemical company during college to help pay expenses, a job that gave her real-world experience before she graduated in 1979 with a chemistry degree from Ohio Dominican College in Columbus.
Carter has shared her enthusiasm for math and science with youth by participating in classroom presentations for middle school girls and lobbying for science and math education reform. “I always tell the students that there are a lot of areas you can go into with the sciences. It’s not just lab work and white coats.”
She is a past board member of the Women Chemist Committee for the American Chemical Society. While on the board, she assisted in setting direction for the development of women in a male-dominated field.
In her new role, Carter will be at the other end of the chemical world, representing those who use chemicals as important production tools.