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Joe Townsend, M.S. 2021

Photo of former graduate student Joe Townsend driving a tractor at the WSU Othello research farm
Joe Townsend, M.S. 2021

Joe Townsend grew up in north central Washington State on a cattle ranch and wheat farm. “I love that life,” he says, “and knew I wanted to study agriculture. As for attending Washington State University, that was a foregone conclusion–my family are hardcore Cougs. Last time I counted, over twenty of us are WSU graduates. I met my wife at WSU. She was doing her graduate studies on canola and my family was hosting some of her trials on our ground.”

Joe earned a Bachelor of Science degree from WSU in 2016. He majored in Agricultural Technologies and Management. That set him up to take a position with Wilbur Ellis as an agronomist and sales person. In 2018, though, he decided to return to WSU to pursue a Master’s degree in Horticulture, specifically potato agronomy.

Joe’s graduate research focuses on two areas, potassium nutrition and tuber greening. Joe says that the goal of his nutrition research “was to get a better understanding of potassium fertilizer requirements for several common Russet potato cultivars grown in the Columbia Basin. The results in 2019 were interesting and unexpected so we expanded the project to include additional sources of potassium. This research is important because of the yield potential of the Columbia Basin. Potato crops in this region require large quantities of inputs which come at a steep price tag for the grower. If we can dial in our inputs and apply only what the crop will use (which can vary by cultivar) we can save the grower money and limit the negative impacts of over fertilization.”

The other focus of Joe’s research was on greening. “We’ve all seen green potatoes on store shelves or in our pantry. Greening is a result of tuber exposure to light (both solar and artificial). Light triggers physiological processes within the tuber resulting in the development of chlorophyll (which is a green pigment produced by the plant so it can conduct photosynthesis) and, via a separate process, the accumulation of toxic glycoalkaloids. The green pigment of chlorophyll makes the tuber unmarketable. Glycoalkaloids can be toxic to humans in high enough concentrations, although modern cultivars rarely reach those levels. Because of food safety concerns, any tubers with green pigment are sorted out by processors. Tuber greening is estimated to cause a 14-17% loss in U.S. potato production.” 

Joe and his wife own and operate a contract agricultural research firm. “We contract with companies and conduct field trials of pesticides, plant nutrients and stimulants, plant varieties, and agronomic practices on 15 different crops in Washington, Idaho, and California. Thankfully, Dr. Pavek is very supportive of his graduate students and allowed me enough flexibility to run a business and pursue my degree at the same time.”

Joe and his wife recently purchased a ranch outside Moscow, Idaho. “We are in the middle of a full renovation of the old ranch house on the property. We plan to start a direct-to-consumer grass-fed beef operation.” They have a dog and car, and enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, sports and, of course, farming.