Stuart Reitz collects samples from irrigation water to check for E. coli near the Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station last week. (The Enterprise/Max Egener)
ONTARIO — Farmers are the greatest jugglers in the world, according to Stuart Reitz, the new director of the Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station outside Ontario.
Between feeding the world, adapting to environmental challenges, and making a living, Reitz thinks farmers deserve all the help they can get.
That’s why he’s pleased to become the fifth director of the experiment station.
Reitz was recently named the successor to Clint Shock, who served as the station’s director for 34 years, the longest tenure in its 72-year history. The station is a resource for the county’s agricultural industry, researching farming practices. It employs five full-time staff, two full-time faculty researchers, seasonal farm workers, and student researchers.
“Malheur County is dependent on agriculture,” Reitz said. “If you take agriculture away, there’s not a whole lot else around here.”
Reitz lives in Fruitland with his wife, Katzy, and his two sons.
His son Isaac is a senior in high school and Colin is in sixth grade
Reitz was happy he gets to watch Isaac perform in the Fruitland High School marching band Friday, but amazed it’s already football season. Reitz was born in New Orleans and grew up in Mobile, Ala. He has an accent, but it’s not as strong as one might expect for someone who grew up in the South. He cultivated a love of wildlife and nature at an early age.
“I grew up watching shows like ‘Wild Kingdom’ so I was always interested in plants and animals,” he said. He studied biology at the University of South Alabama for his bachelor’s degree and then completed his master’s at Clemson University, researching bird migration patterns.
Reitz changed paths after his master’s, however. One of his advisors was an entomologist and knew he harbored an interest in that eld. The advisor convinced him it wasn’t too late, and Reitz went on to get his doctorate in entomology at Clemson.
Ever since, he has been researching how insects affect agriculture.
“Insects are fascinating creatures,” Reitz said. “They do some really weird, wonderful things.”
After spending 13 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service in Florida, Reitz and his family were ready for a change.
“Sometimes you get the itch to do something different,” Reitz said.
That itch brought him to the OSU extension service in 2012 to research cropping systems.
“It’s a lot different than the South,” Reitz said.
He has been impressed with how canals and irrigation systems transform this arid landscape into an agricultural powerhouse.
“Those were built back in the day when they didn’t have computers or GPS or laser levelers,” Reitz said. “That was really incredible work and they were doing it all with hand penciling and surveying.”
As director, Reitz wants to build on the experiment station’s research on improving water efficiency. He said the region has recently experienced a high frequency of drought years, and the station is equipped to help farmers grapple with low water in the future. Former station director Shock worked for years on researching the precise levels of drip irrigation necessary to keep crops healthy. That research along with helping farmers use electronic soil moisture monitors has allowed farmers to more effectively irrigate, according to Reitz.
He also wants to continue working with farmers to be mindful of how agriculture impacts water quality as water runs off into rivers. While companies have recently made environmentally safer pesticides, they are more expensive, Reitz said. He’s intent on helping farmers use pesticides in the most responsible and economical way.
“We as university researchers have the opportunity to look at something and think about how best to address the issue,” Reitz said. He hopes to build on the relationships the station has made with farmers over the years.
Reporter Max Egener: [email protected] or 503-853-6476. Twitter: @maxegener