HOOD RIVER, Ore. – A Rutgers University entomologist with professional ties to Hood River has taken the helm at Oregon State University's research and Extension operations there.
Peter Shearer is the new superintendent of OSU’s Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center, which is headquartered in Hood River. The center serves cherry and pear growers and other farmers in Oregon's Hood River and Wasco counties as well as Washington's Klickitat County.
Shearer had been a tree fruit entomologist for Rutgers Cooperative Extension in New Jersey, his home state. He holds a master’s degree in entomology from OSU and a doctorate in entomology from the University of Hawaii.
He has returned to familiar ground. From 1982 to 1991, he was a research technician at the center in Hood River, helping the lead entomologist develop solutions to manage insect pests in orchards.
Shearer got down to work even before he started his new job just before Labor Day. After he accepted the position, and while still in the Garden State, he joined OSU Extension horticulturist Steve Castagnoli in writing part of a proposal for a $2.24 million federal grant involving OSU, Washington State University, the University of California at Berkeley and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA-funded Specialty Crop Initiative grant, which has been approved, will support research that uses beneficial insects to control orchard-damaging bugs.
Tree fruit growers spray pesticides onto their orchards to keep codling moth larvae from boring into fruit. In the process, however, the pesticides also kill good bugs – like ladybugs, green lacewings and predatory mites – that eat other bugs that are harmful to the crops. So researchers want to figure out how to keep the good bugs alive while still killing the codling moth larvae.
"It may be that we have to develop new strategies for when we put on these pesticides, the rates at which we apply them, and how we rotate these products with other products," Shearer said.
Over the course of five years, each partner in the project will focus on a specific commodity. OSU will receive $273,600 to study how the pesticides affect beneficial insects in local pear orchards, Shearer said. WSU will do the same with apples, UC Berkeley will work on walnuts, and the USDA in Yakima will look at predators that eat codling moth larvae.
In addition to working on this project, Shearer is creating a vision for the center in terms of research.
"We want to do innovative, forward-thinking research," he said. "What I’d like to do is develop a plan that would take us into the future. We’re trying to figure out where we’re going to be in 20 to 30 years. When you’re working with orchards, they’re in the ground for a long time, so you have to think far ahead."
Right now, he’s assembling his team. The center hired pomologist Todd Einhorn in June, and is preparing to hire two assistant professors, one in soil biology and the other in post-harvest physiology.
Shearer plans to continue with some of the research that is taking place at the center, such as the "flat" rows of pear trees. Their branches are trellised horizontally along wires, making them look two-dimensional. It's still too early to tell, but researchers hope that this system will be cheaper and faster to harvest than conventional pear orchards, where the branches grow in all directions. That’s because instead of having laborers haul ladders from tree to tree, a mechanical harvester or pickers on a motorized platform can zip straight down the rows.
Amid the planning and research projects, Shearer keeps one goal is mind. "Whatever we do at the research center has to help growers stay in business," he said. "We can do that by helping them increase yields or decrease costs."
Shearer replaces Clark Seavert, who continues working for OSU as the director of its North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora.