family background / Suzanne’s love of agriculture grew out of her interest in the sciences. She is the daughter of Joe and Marti Niemann, and she is working to apply research to improve fruit from the field to the consumer.
grower / Yakima, Washington
age / 23
crops / Apples, cherries
business / Horticultural researcher for Allan Brothers Inc.
How did you get your start?
I’d always grown up enjoying the science part of nature. I was involved in 4-H, and I was always interested in sustainable agriculture. That’s what I was looking forward to doing in college. I kind of figured that if I’m going to get my education it should be about plant sciences.
I pursued my undergrad degree at Washington State University, then obtained my master’s degree in horticulture. One of the reasons why I think agriculture is so inspiring for me is — it’s meteorology, it’s geology, it’s chemistry, biology, botany — it’s all these different sciences together, and all in one industry and career.
It’s agriculture, that’s all it is. So being able to combine all of those fields into my job, my career, is just a dream come true.
Describe your job as a horticulturist?
My role is in assisting precision agriculture because there’s a lot of things like irrigation fertilizer management, pruning trials, that no matter what research is available, we still need to be able to apply it to each growing environment.
For Allan Brothers, we have orchards from Naches, Mattawa, Pasco that all have different soil types, so knowing how research can fit our particular orchards, climate, etc., that’s how my role in the company can be influential.
I can spend my time looking at the nitty-gritty details of growing instead of trying to master everyday operations.
What do you enjoy about your job?
The work I do changes constantly. Sometimes I’m in the warehouse with quality control, sometimes I’m in the field making applications or checking fruit.
What I do is really dynamic and that’s just the fruit side of my job. Let alone there’s the statistical side of it, where I’m gathering all of the data, putting it into a computer and learning what the numbers are telling me.
The other exciting part that I really enjoy is taking all of the work you’ve done over the summer and putting it into a final report. I can go back to people in upper-management and explain, “We did these trials, this is what we saw, then we can do something different, or maybe do the same thing.”
It’s also exciting to bring in all the team members and show how their work is helping the entire company. Each person is helping out in our research, yet they don’t really know how much of an impact they have in the end result.
What are some of your goals?
Some of the long-term goals would be looking at organics and sustainable agriculture. Is organics really sustainable or can we grow conventionally and still be sustainable using less inputs and having better practices for our environment?
I’m also really interested in improving our quality control data that we take at the warehouses. I’ve always wondered how do we know whether a particular set of 25 apples that are pulled from a delivery is telling us what we want to know about all of the apples? Say, if you are sampling for bitter pit, and you are only checking 25 apples, those results could really spike the incidence number over actual number in the entire delivery.
I’d really like to better fine-tune our QC practices, our storage protocol, and when we need to take fruit out and back into storage. In this industry, there’s always new things to learn and always new things to gain. I love being outside, how dynamic agriculture is and the culture about it.