1. Martin, RobertWhat is your position at Oregon State University/OWRI?

I am a Research Plant Pathologist with the USDA-ARS Horticultural Crops Research Unit working on viruses of berry crops and grapes, and the Research Leader for the Horticultural Crops Research Unit (read paper pusher).  I am also a Courtesy Professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at OSU and core faculty member of OWRI.

  1. What do you enjoy most about your work?

Technically, at the USDA-ARS our job descriptions are 100% research, though to be successful and responsive to stakeholders we do carry out extension activities.  My position is unique in several ways in that we are the only laboratory in the U.S. that focuses entirely on viruses of berries and grapes.  This provides an opportunity to be involved in virus issues on these crops across the U.S. and overseas, and work with a wide range of stakeholders and colleagues.  As a USDA-ARS researcher located on campus I have many advantages of regular OSU faculty, such as mentoring graduate and undergraduate students, access to a wide range of seminars, central laboratory services, computing services, and many colleagues to discuss research ideas. I have a fantastic group of colleagues to collaborate with and a great job, what’s not to like?

  1. When you’re not working, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I enjoy spending time with family, I have five brothers and five sisters and we try to get together at least once a year, thus usually includes a trip to Wisconsin each year.  Now with four grandchildren, going on five, my wife and I very much enjoy being grandparents.  I also enjoy woodworking, hiking, backpacking, making wine and cheese, wine tasting, cooking and reading.  Each of these activities provides gratification on a short time frame compared to research, where timeframes from developing a project to implementation in the field can take several years.

  1. What inspired you to choose your career path?

I grew up on a family dairy farm in central Wisconsin and as a teenager I knew there were certain areas we planted clover instead of alfalfa, experienced grain harvests where I was covered with a red dust and there was very little grain to be had, saw cherry trees oozing with slime and the impact of Dutch Elm Disease on native stands.  I had seen crop failure due to diseases, insects and frosts in July.  The idea of trying to avoid losses due to diseases and insects was something that intrigued me from an early age.  Summer frosts – well that I can’t change, but at least it was rare.

  1. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Trust that people will do their best until they prove you wrong.  With this philosophy, people will usually do much better than you expect. Only micromanage once someone demonstrates that they need it. 

  1. Which three people (living or dead) would you invite to dinner?

    Jesus, Muhammad, and Marx, I would like to get their views on how their teachings have been used and abused in the world. I would like to get their input on how they would change their messages now that there has been time to see the impact they have had on the world. 

  1. What is your vision for the future of your research?

I would like to see the results of our research on viruses of grapevines and berry crops lead to management tools that growers can implement to reduce production costs, improve fruit quality and extend the life of plantings. I would like to use plant viruses as tools to develop sustainable tools for insect and disease control.  I know this will require overcoming the concerns about the use of genetically modified organisms, but I do believe there are situations where this will be an effective technology.  Publications are nice and often the primary factor in evaluating research programs, but having an impact for the grower’s is much more important to me.  If one finishes a research project when the publication is completed, they are only doing part of the job.  As a researchers we should be accountable to stakeholders and taxpayers.