The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
the Times 

100 years of WSU extension in Columbia County `


October 24, 2019

Courtesy photo

This photo from 2005 show WSU Dayton Extension Agent Paul Carter on the left with his predecessors; Art Sunderland, and Roland Schirman.

DAYTON-In The First 45 Years: A History of Cooperative Extension in Washington State, published by Washington State University press, in April, 1961, author Russell M. Turner discusses the importance of early efforts by state college and experiment station researchers to get their research into the hands of farmers.

Turner wrote that Dr. W. J. Spillman at the State College of Washington, in Pullman, said in his 1897 station report that the demand for information exceeded the ability to meet it.

At the turn of the last century research information was shared with farmers at county Farmers' Institutes, on demonstration train stops, and through published bulletins.

Turner credits Dr. Spillman's work, and that of others, for unlocking the secrets of plant breeding and making possible the development of a large number of new types of wheat that were suitable for eastern Washington conditions..

"Dr. Spillman needs recognition for his advanced thinking, planning, and laying the groundwork for the Agricultural Extension work throughout the state," Turner wrote.

That work gained legal status and support with the passage of legislation creating the Extension at Washington State College, which is a land grant college, and with the creation of the Bureau of Farm Development, in 1913.

The Bureau of Farm Development provided for the appointment and maintenance of agricultural experts, and empowered the boards of county commissioners to appropriate and set aside funds to support the position.

The commissioners could then apply to the director of the Bureau of Farm Development to appoint a competent agricultural expert in their county.

Since then, Columbia County has had seven Extension Agents beginning with J. Mitchel Lewis who served from June, 1919 until August, 1922.

Z. Smith served from Sept. 1, 1922 to Nov., 1922.

Carl A. Anderson served from Aug. 1933 to Dec. 1933 and then from Jan. 1934 until Nov. 1945

Robert Williams served from Nov., 1945 until June, 1954.

Art Sunderland served from June, 1954 until July 15, 1979.

Roland Schirman served from Oct. 1979 until Nov. 2004.

That list also includes Paul Carter. The current WSU Extension Agent.

"I am very proud to have been the county agent these past 15 years, serving the citizens of Columbia County," Carter said. "I have tried to continue the traditions of the past, making adjustments along the way for changes in population, technology, and economic impacts."

Carter said that years ago the Extension office in Dayton had three or four agents. He is now the only agent, sharing the office with Donna Hangar, the 4-H Coordinator and Nadene Shearer, the Weed Control Board Coordinator.

One thing that puzzles him, he said, is why the administrators at WSU have decided to downsize extension services, in spite of the need for them.

He said this downsizing has been taking place over the last five to ten years, to the point where there are no longer agents in some areas, including in Franklin County, or in Spokane, and no replacements are being planned.

"The rest of the university is not getting smaller," Carter said. "Where will folks go if agents aren't there to answer questions?"

He may not have a good answer for those questions, but he has some good answers for farmers in his research into Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"I am a nonbiased resource of information for farmers," Carter explained.

For instance, if a fertilizer company recommends a certain brand of fertilizer, then Carter will research the product and help farmers decide whether to use that brand, and he will look into whether it is cost effective, or not.

Carte said he maintains 50 educational agricultural demonstration plots, focusing on soil health and acidity issues.

They vary in size from one acre to 100 x 200 ft. plots, and they are located mainly in Columbia County.

He also has some in Walla Walla and Whitman counties, and one in Moro County, Ore., along with an additional plot in Pendleton.

"All of them have lime treatments for acidic soil amendments, and some of them have additional treatments of nutrients," Carter said.

Some of the demonstration plots in Dayton and Walla Walla are for wheat, barley, and legume variety evaluations, looking into which varieties perform the best, in given areas.

Carter said some of them produced almost 200 bushels of wheat this year.

"Grandpa only raised thirty or forty," he said, proudly.

Carter said he also helps facilitate Field Days for trees in Columbia County.

The USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service along with WSU foresters connect with him for those, he said.

There are also Field Days during the summer months for wheat varieties.

"We test those and farmers come and see what they look like, and the plant breeders talk about their varieties, and which ones they think are the best," he said.

"We are a resource for Industry, as well," Carter said.

"We do everything," he said.

Everything also includes identifying grasses, spiders, bugs, molds, and mildews and helping to solve issues with trees.

"It changes every day, but some days I struggle because I don't have a spider person to go to," he said.

Meetings seem to take up a large part of Carter's time.

He said he just got back from the National County Agents Conference in Indiana where he was recognized as a state winner for his report about one of the demonstration plots.

He was also recognized as a regional finalist for his power point presentation on Soil Health and Soil Nutrients and Essential Nutrients for Plant Growth and Development.

In addition, Carter and two other extension agents were recognized for their collaboration on portfolios of all the varieties of spring and winter wheat.

In the first week of October, Carter gave a presentation on soil nutrients at a regional county agents meeting in Great Falls, Montana, he said.

Carter said he and 12 to 15 others from the eastern part of the state have formed a Small Grains team, and they are in the process of planning a Wheat Academy, at WSU, in December, with topics in Agronomy, Weed Science, Etymology, and Soils.

"I'm doing one on Soil Nutrition and Deficiency Symptoms," he said.

With all that going on, what does a county agent do for fun?

Carter said he is hoping to save the genetics of some one hundred year old cherry trees located in the "old Eaton yard" on the North Touchet River property, where he lives with his wife Carroll.

He has been teaching himself the art of grafting.

"It was my first attempt to graft any kind of trees. I did some reading on how it might be done, and figured I could try," he said.

Carter said he had a twenty-five percent success rate on the first try, and that he might have saved more of them if he had not been out of town at the time.

"Since that first try I have done others with about a sixty percent success rate," Carter said. "I'm getting better at it, as my last ones all lived."

That's not bad for this busy county extension agent.


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