Introducing Dr. Garett Heineck, USDA-ARS

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Contact Garett via his WSU email at

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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app and leave us a review so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Dr. Garett Heineck. Garett is a USDA-ARS cropping systems agronomist in the Northwest Sustainable Agroecosystems Research Unit and is stationed in Prosser, Washington. He received a Bachelor’s of Science from the University of Wisconsin River Falls and a Master’s of Science and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in plant breeding genetics, focusing on perennial grass production systems. Garett has also completed two postdocs. The first was focused on modeling yield components and moisture content of Kernza® at the University of Minnesota and the second on lentil pathology and genetics at Washington State University. In his current role, he’ll be adding his expertise to a diverse team of ARS researchers working together to improve the sustainability and profitability of agroecosystems throughout PNW dryland. Hello, Garrett.

Dr. Garett Heineck: Good to be here, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So you’re rather new to this new ARS unit. When did you start? What’s your approach going to be about learning about farming systems? It’s a very, you probably know this, but very diverse state. How do you how do you go about learning about all that stuff?

Dr. Garett Heineck: That’s a great question, Drew. I guess I’ve been here for about about a month now. I started in October, and so I haven’t been here long enough to really grasp the magnitude of the research region. Like you said, I was doing a postdoc in Prosser working on lentil pathology before I came here, so I had a little taste, I think, of the dryland. I had never visited this region before moving here, which was just last year. And so I guess driving down in through Coeur d’Alene on I-90 coming from the Midwest, it was very shocking, I think, to see the landscape and actually really reflect upon the first people who tried to grow crops here. Perhaps like, you know, across tall grass, prairie with some sagebrush in there and kind of thinking, “Wow, who would you try to grow crops here?” And but obviously people do, and they’re very successful at it. And so it’s almost ironic that now I find myself in a position to be doing research in this in this landscape, and it is quite diverse. And that’s actually really what drew me to the position, I think so, I guess. A little bit about my approach is, to be honest, this this podcast has been a great inspiration, I think, overall listening to the plethora of researchers who have been on the show and their experiences in the dryland, a little bit of background about the unit and my position. The unit has a long history of doing conducting research in the inland Pacific Northwest. I think in recent years it’s been centered mostly on the Cook Agronomy Farm, which is just north of Pullman here, where we’re talking currently. But the area of interest because we are part of the long term agricultural research unit or network, I should say — our unit is part of that network — that extends if you were to kind of see Pullman in your mind and you traveled south to southwest, to Pendleton and then further west across the Horse Heavens, stretching all the way to the Cascades south of the Columbia River and then north, if you moved from there all the way up to Okanagan and then traveling southeast through Ritzville and then just west of Spokane to the Wilke Farm, I think would be the edge of the territory. And then, of course, down back to the Pullman. So it’s a very impressive and diverse landscape that we cover, and it’s quite daunting actually to to learn about so. But a great challenge tonight that I welcome.

Drew Lyon: So you mentioned Kernza before, or I guess I read it in your in your introduction here. For some of those people who may not be familiar with Kernza. Can you tell us a little bit about what that was areas?

Dr. Garett Heineck: Absolutely. Yeah, sure. My first postdoc was working with intermediate wheat grass that’s grown for grain, which is trademarked Kernza. And so it’s not unlike the thinopyrum, the tall grass that’s actually native to this part of the country. It’s thinopyrum intermedium. It’s grown or it’s been trying to be grown for perennial wheat, and it’s been quite successful as far as marketing goes, I think. There’s been a lot of industry interest in producing that, that perennial crop. One of the big benefits that people see it is because it is a perennial hold soil much better than our annual wheats. Yield is somewhat of a problem, but that was part of my goal as a postdoc was to be modeling yield components across years to see why yields were declining and perhaps find us somewhat of a solution to that to that issue.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so your position here is going to be cropping systems. Is that correct?

Dr. Garett Heineck: That’s correct.

Drew Lyon: And I used to in a former life, I used to do dryland cropping systems in western Nebraska, and I always kind of thought that be nice from a weed control standpoint, from many other standpoints, carbon, to get perennials into the system. So is it are you going to involve all sorts of — I guess what things do you see in your mind is some of the things you’re going to work on in cropping systems, for these, I assume the dryland portions of eastern Washington?

Dr. Garett Heineck: Well, that’s right, Drew. I think the the Isaac Madsen’s pea-ola idea is nothing compared to the complexities of a perennial landscape that I think — I guess I’ll take a step back. I think that there’s I think that my main focuses are going to be across several different things. Chiefly, I think winter annuals are going to be very important intercropping. I mentioned the pea-ola, which I thought was just a great idea, and I’ve been in contact with with Isaac about that. But then, yes, like you just mentioned, perennials as well. And I think that’s a much it’s it’s something that should be approached with some humility, I think, because why aren’t they out there now? Why aren’t they in production? It’s because it’s probably quite difficult to do. But it certainly is something that I will hope to be looking into in the future, and I think that our team in general is going to be interested in. I’m just one of four new scientists in our research unit, and our unit already has many great support scientists and technicians who are doing great work on the Cook Agronomy Farm and elsewhere. So I need to be able to integrate myself into the current research. But that being said, I think perennials probably will be on the on the outlook for the future for my program. Okay.

Drew Lyon: And of course, wheat is king here in eastern Washington. Any thoughts about cropping systems, annual cropping with wheat?

Dr. Garett Heineck: Yeah, a lot of a lot of thoughts. I think I have a lot more to learn before I can contribute substantially to the body of research that’s already been conducted. But a lot of that, I think, has to a big part of me being able to conduct good, solid research on annual wheat is going to be just me learning and talking with people, for example, and meeting with people like Ian Burke about weeds that are that are becoming resistant to several different modes of action, which is something that’s going to be very important in research in the upcoming years. So a lot of it’s going to be listening and learning from others who have the experience and then hoping once I learn enough that I can make a sound contribution to the inland Pacific Northwest here in wheat systems.

Drew Lyon: As you were saying, you know, why isn’t something grown here and something else is grown here? Getting an answer to that is important. So understanding why we do what we do here is important. One thing I really noticed moving from the Great Plains to here is what a difference the rainfall pattern makes. You know, in the Great Plains, Minnesota, most of the rain falls in the summertime. Here, that’s — we’re very hot and dry in the summer, and the rain comes in the winter, fall and winter, and it has a big impact on what you can do. So following the water, I think, is always an important thing. And then I have an interest in weeds. So those are important too. So, very wheat centric here. Wheat’s well adapted, but some need for change. So how do you go about looking for what can be tweaked in the system to make it a more productive and sustainable system in the long run?

Dr. Garett Heineck: That’s a great question. First, I would like to — I just try to meet with producers, not just because I mentioned the area, the actual that the Cook Agronomy Farm, the area that it covers is massive. And you said Mediterranean climate with three very large and distinct precipitation, agroecological classes, right there. The fallow, like in the Horse Heavens where it’s dry as a bone, moving east into the transitional to the annual zone here in the east and in the Palouse. So how do you make change on the landscape especially when you don’t have a lifetime’s worth of experience? I think it’s got to start with building relationships with producers themselves, not just in the Palouse, but also moving west towards the drier lands. I met with some folks up in up near Lind. Some people have been farming up there, probably for 100 years or more. And then in the Horse Heavens as well, multi-generational farming family hoping to meet with them. And that’s, I think, that’s the key. You know, if you want to make change because they have problems, but they also have the generations of experience. They’ve tried things that we might think are new, but because we didn’t talk to them and they’ve tried it, you know, twenty years ago, maybe it can work now. But perhaps it needs to be — The research would need to be conducted with information that they could give that could make the research more productive. So I think really just reaching out and talking with people, especially as a new scientist is is absolutely paramount to conducting good research and making change. And then if I may be so bold as to to offer a suggestion without knowing a ton. I think wheat it is king and will continue to be king. but just listening to people’s stories, it seems like it’s becoming more and more and more more and more difficult to control, for example, cystic weeds, for example, where we’re losing modes of action to several different species, grass species. And perhaps if we could incorporate new and profitable winter annuals into the system, that could break up those those weeds in the crop rotation. Perhaps that would be even if they’re not quite as profitable, perhaps they will have other benefits besides just the sheer economics of the whole thing. So we’ll see how that all that goes, but I’m quite excited to to see what — where it all takes me.

Drew Lyon: You know, when I came here in 2012, I found the growers and all the people in the industry had to be very open to talking to you and sharing their stories with you. So I think that’s a great way of doing it if if people want to get in touch with you, how do they go about doing that?

Dr. Garett Heineck: Oh, that’s great, Drew. A very good question to consider. So. I’m relatively new and so that means I don’t actually have a functional USDA email yet. When I do have a functional email will be But in the meantime, and in the future, if you so choose, feel free to contact me at my Washington State email, which is And I would also like to, we don’t have an official, but we have an official page, our unit does. But it might be best if you’re more interested in the LTAR network, just Google LTAR and USDA together and you’ll found some really good, interesting information on the long term research that’s been done here and elsewhere across across the U.S., so I would encourage that as well.

Drew Lyon: OK, and we’ll make sure we get your contact information into the show notes for this episode. So if listeners want to try to contact you, they’ll they’ll have that information there at hand. Thank you very much for sharing with us your your background and your vision, and we look forward to some very productive years ahead for you.

Dr. Garett Heineck: Thank you, Drew.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s — ( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University’s endorsement.

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