After helping to expand Washington State’s grape industry through public and private entities for more than 35 years, Gary Ballard, operations manager of the Clean Plant Center Northwest Grape Program, is retiring in April.
Since 2003, Ballard has managed Washington State University’s clean plant program, formerly called the Northwest Grape Foundation Service, to ensure that Northwest growers have access to certified grapevines. The certified grapevines are tested for 30 targeted viruses.
Ballard left a lucrative private industry job with one of Washington’s largest grape and wine producers—Wyckoff Farms and Coventry Vale Winery—to manage WSU’s foundation block and facilities. As operations manager at Wyckoff, he directed their research and adoption of new technology. Before that, he worked for Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in vineyard management. He graduated from WSU in 1971 with a master’s degree in plant pathology.
The Clean Plant Center is part of the National Clean Plant Network that promotes the use of healthy plant material for specialty crops in the United States. In the Northwest, clean grapevines are produced at WSU’s foundation vineyard in Prosser that is home to more than 300 grape varieties. Ballard’s duties included tissue culture work, greenhouse maintenance, and development and maintenance of the foundation block. He worked with a variety of customers, from certified nurseries, university and federal research programs, and grape growers in the Northwest and beyond.
The program has been a main source of certified plant stock for many northern, eastern, and southern states, in part because it was one of the first to eliminate crown gall disease from its foundation block. The crown gall pathogen can be latent inside a grapevine for years, and is only a problem in regions where vines suffer cold winter injury. Certified plant material from warm climates, like California, isn’t tested for crown gall because the disease isn’t a problem there.
WSU’s Dr. Markus Keller, who hired Ballard to manage the Northwest Grape Foundation Service, says it was one of the best decisions he ever made. Without Ballard, the program wouldn’t have happened, he said.
Ballard was active in grape industry organizations during his career and is a past board member of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, Washington State Grape Society, and Pacific Northwest Fruit Testers Association. In 2009, he received the Grape Society’s Walter Clore Award for his years of industry service.