Steve Castagnoli, horticulturist and expert in tree fruit production, is the new director of the Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center (MCAREC) in Hood River.
Castagnoli, who joined Oregon State University in 1992, has been an Extension faculty member at MCAREC for almost 17 years, conducting outreach and applied research in pear horticulture and integrated pest management.
He has worked with pear, apple and wine grape growers in Hood River and Wasco counties in Oregon and Skamania and Klickitat counties in Washington. He’s also covered other farm crops in Hood River County.
“Steve brings a wealth of knowledge of tree fruit research, production and pest management to this position,” said Joyce Loper, associate dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
“Through his Extension position in Hood River, he also has an exemplary record of outreach to growers in the mid-Columbia region,” she said. “The college is delighted to welcome him to this important leadership position, and we look forward to working with him to build impactful research programs at MCAREC that advance agriculture in the region.”
MCAREC, which has operated for more than 80 years, is a combined facility of OSU Extension and Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station. Its scientists conduct research and outreach programs that help fruit growers in north-central Oregon and south-central Washington operate profitably and sustainably.
Castagnoli will oversee 11 research and administrative employees and several temporary employees during the growing season, and will direct operations on the station’s 55-acre experimental farm south of Hood River.
Castagnoli said his first priority as director is to refill two of MCAREC’s currently vacant research positions (one for an entomologist; the other for a horticulturist) as budgets permit. “These research programs continue to be critical to the industry,” he said, “and I want to rebuild them so we can continue to address their needs.”
With a full research staff, he said, the center will be better able to tackle existing challenges and those on the horizon. Two key concerns of growers right now are developing integrated pest management strategies for emerging pests such as spotted-wing drosophila, and making orchards less labor-intensive.
MCAREC’s programs enjoy good support from growers, Castagnoli said. “While growers could get some of their research needs addressed at other centers in the Northwest, the conditions in our area are different enough that there’s an ongoing need for local information.”
Castagnoli has served as MCAREC’s interim director since last November, following the resignation of Brian Tuck, who served as MCAREC Director for six years. Tuck currently serves as regional administrator for OSU Extension in Wasco and Hood River counties
Tree fruits, particularly pears and cherries, are a mainstay of the economy in the heavily agricultural mid-Columbia area. Hood River County’s harvest of pears, sweet cherries and apples brought in about $108 million in sales in 2012, according to estimates from Castagnoli and other Extension researchers, while in neighboring Wasco County, sweet cherries brought in an average $64 million between 2011 and 2015. About one-third of the region’s harvest is exported, Castagnoli said.
In his new role, Castagnoli intends to build on MCAREC’s long history of research that helps growers produce high-quality fruit, reduce pest damage, lower overhead costs and stay in business in a volatile global market.
He pointed out some of MCAREC’s accomplishments:
Fruit-handling techniques to minimize post-harvest problems that lower fruit value.
Packaging solutions that extend storage life, making Oregon cherries and pears more competitive in export markets.
IPM programs that enable growers to manage insects and diseases with less reliance on chemical pesticides.
Development of “size-controlling” (i.e., dwarf or semi-dwarf) rootstocks to support cherry and pear orchard systems that can be managed with less hand labor.
A growth-and-development model for cherries, now in development, that will predict dates of fruit maturity so that growers can schedule harvests more precisely.