May/June 2022 - 28

his career, high numbers of hospital
visits and injuries during the potato
harvest led him to develop a potato
were drastically reduced, and serious
This effort resulted in a Citation for
Meritorious Service to Safety from the
Agricultural Division of the National
Safety Council in 1992.
He wrote disease-forecasting software
for late blight and early blight. The
software was trialed on a southern
hemisphere sabbatical leave to test the
model before the next local growing
season. The software targets regionspecific
weather patterns, but has been
used outside of Maine as well. This effort
resulted in Johnson receiving the Maine
Potato Board President's Award in 1995.
Communication of the specific
information and recommendations
was lagging behind the need for timely
reporting. The establishment of a hotline
brought the speed of communication
up to that of the recommendations. The
hotline still receives in excess of 1,000
calls per summer. This effort resulted in
a Northeast Extension Director's Award
of Excellence in 1999.
Johnson has been on the forefront
of two quarantinable pests that have
threatened the U.S. potato industry. He
has been a strong voice using science to
help guide the response and actions on
a regional and national level. This effort
resulted in him receiving the Maine
Potato Board President's Award in 2002.
Johnson has always embraced
research and Extension efforts. He has
guided the Maine potato integrated
pest management (IPM) program
into recording weather stations. His
efforts with potato IPM resulted in a
Northeast Extension Director's Award
of Excellence in 2004.
late blight
continued to evolve, as have Johnson's
Incorporation of translaminar and
epidemic spread dynamics, and
prescription-based approaches have
been instrumental in reducing losses
to late blight. The final part of the
package was postharvest applications. In
addition to carrier rate and chemistry, an
applicator was developed. These efforts
have virtually eliminated storage bin
breakdown. He was recognized in 2008
with the Northeast Region Certified
Crop Advisors President's Award.
A PAA member before he arrived in
Maine, he became involved with the
PAA Extension
Section Anti-Bruise
committee where he served as secretary
and chair of this committee, helping
guide the efforts to address the identified
issues. He went on to serve as secretary,
vice chair, and chair of the Extension
Section. He has likewise served in the
Plant Protection Section.
PAA service includes contributing to
and editing the Potato Production in
North America publication, being on
the Graduate Student Paper committee,
and as a member on the organizing
committees of PAA meetings held in
Maine in 1995 and 2015.
Johnson excels in the field, where his
problem-solving skills are in demand.
He has always used science to guide
solutions for growers in Maine as well
as other places in the world. He has
for applied use
addressing the issues and solutions
as well as journal publications and
book chapters. These publications
have improved the understanding of
issues and have guided production
improvements over many years. He has
continually embraced technology for
production improvements as well as for
information delivery.
Best known for his work in potato
pathology, he speaks broadly on diseaserelated
topics. A strong proponent of
IPM, he is on the American Society of
Agronomy's International Certified
Crop Advisor exam committee,
strengthening the IPM portion.
recognition of his
service to the PAA and his many
research accomplishments, the PAA is
pleased to designate Steven Johnson as
an Honorary Life Member.
Words of wisdom from Johnson: " I
came to Maine over 30 years ago. I had
a passion for potatoes then, and it has
never left. I've had terrific colleagues in
and out of Maine to work with over the
years. None of my success would have
been possible without them. It doesn't
get any better than to be recognized
by your peers and your professional
society. Again, thanks to PAA and to
all that helped me get here. I know I
did not do it alone. I'm just a simple
country boy. "
Robert K. Thornton
Thornton was born into a farming
family in 1957 and was soon one of
five siblings - three sons and two
daughters. Thornton grew up in
Pullman, Washington, but did plenty
of farm work each summer, including
at his family's operation. He recalls
listening to his dad give talks to potato
farmers at Washington State's annual
Othello Fields Day.
In the early 1970s, Thornton
experimented on a rapid method to
detect bruising in potatoes, which he
documented for the school paper. The
method is still in use today.
Thornton later earned both his
bachelor's and master's degrees from
nearby WSU. Nearing graduation,
Thornton accepted a job as an
agronomist for the UI Sugar Company
in 1980. He spent the next 18 years
conducting potato research and
applying his findings to the more than
14,000 acres of processing potatoes.
The company, now Agri Northwest
Inc. (AGNW), allowed him to use some
of his potato research toward getting
his Ph.D. in crop science from Oregon
State University in 1994. For that, he is
eternally grateful. AGNW also allowed
him to represent growers as a member
of the Washington State
Commission (1989-91).
Beside conducting small plot
research, he had access to over 15 years

May/June 2022

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