family background/ India is pursuing a graduate degree in horticulture at Washington State University. India is the daughter of Beth and Shawn Cain.
age/ 29
hometown/ Port Orchard, Washington
crops/ apples and pears
role/ student, research associate
college/ Washington State University

Why did you go into agriculture?
I have really fond memories of going to nurseries when I was a child. Growing up, nobody in our family worked in agriculture, and I didn’t become interested until high school when I ended up taking a “Plants of the Pacific Northwest” class.

When I took that class, I thought that I was going to be some naturalist and end up taking people on tours through the rainforest and telling them about all of the native plants of Washington. After that, I took a horticulture class, and so when I went to college, I decided to pursue a degree in plant biology.

I found that WSU was one of the better colleges to go to if you wanted to study ag. When I first went to WSU, my mind was set on getting a degree in viticulture and enology and I was very excited about it.

In Year 2, I decided that I liked fruit and vegetable crop management a lot better, so I switched majors, and I ended up majoring in it with a minor in viticulture and enology. I’m proud of that decision, because I dove into something that I was unfamiliar with.

How did you end up pursuing a master’s degree?
After I finished my bachelor’s, I ended up going to WSU Wenatchee and working an internship with the apple breeding program.

One of the things that made me want to do fruit and vegetable crop management was an article in The Seattle Times when the new apple came out. WA 38 was on the front page, and I said to myself, “I’m gonna work in that lab one day,” and then I ended up actually doing it. I still have the newspaper to this day.

I worked in the breeding program for a year, then part-time at the pathology lab at USDA-ARS, and at that time I decided that I wanted to get my master’s degree because I really love working in research. There’s nothing more intriguing than watching fruit go from seed all the way to market. And to me, that’s just the coolest thing ever.

Why did you gravitate toward the breeding program?
I’m interested in breeding because I find it very satisfying knowing that the work that’s being done is essentially feeding the world. We’re staying on top of things like disease and pest resistance while creating new varieties so that people are more satisfied with what they’re eating.

What are you working on for your degree?
In my master’s project, it focuses on using a nondestructive device to collect more uniform samples. In the breeding program, new accessions are being added and taken out of the second phase constantly. Sort of like a conveyor belt.

Because of that, the biggest challenge with those Phase 2 accessions is that we have limited information on the optimal time to harvest those fruit. With a large number of new samples, it’s challenging to develop starch indexes for all of them. We’re pretty much guessing when to harvest these accessions because of that.

The best way for us to reduce the amount of fruit that we waste, and be able to better determine when to harvest those fruit, is by using some sort of nondestructive device along with the starch index. This reduces variabilities of our samples and improves our processes. I’m helping the program be more consistent in evaluating those accessions.

What would you tell other young people about pursuing ag?
When you’re a student or a grad student, it seems like you’re juggling 500 different things all at one time. You have your project, and then you’re also helping out with a lab that you’re working in, and then you have school stuff going on as well.

For somebody who’s not in the industry and wants to apply to the graduate school or just get their degree at WSU, I think looking through the course catalog and determining which classes you might be interested in was one of the first things that helped me figure out what I was going to do in school.

There are times when it gets tough if you don’t have an ag background —however, don’t get discouraged, because I’ve found there are so many people in the industry who’re willing to reach out and help you.

– by TJ Mullinax