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2022 Fellow Dr. Robert Harveson​

The society grants this honor to a current APS member in recognition of distinguished contributions to plant pathology or to The American Phytopathological Society. Fellow recognition is based on significant contributions in one or more of the following areas: original research, teaching, administration, professional and public service, and/or extension and outreach.

Robert (Bob) M. Harveson was born in Abilene, TX. He received a B.A. degree in history from Trinity University (1983), a B.S. degree in plant and soil science from Tarleton State University (1985), an M.S. degree in plant pathology from Texas A&M University (1989), and a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of Florida-Gainesville (1999). Harveson is a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). He is stationed at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center (PHREC) in Scottsbluff, with a 50% research and 50% Extension appointment.

Harveson provides regional growers with services, training, and education to reduce losses to new and/or important diseases of specialty crops. His applied research and Extension program has been exceptional in meeting the needs of regional producers. As a result, he has gained regional and national acclaim among growers, commodity groups, and agri-industry, as well as international recognition from the scientific community for expertise in diseases of specialty crops.

The Nebraska Panhandle and surrounding regional production areas support a wide diversity of crops, including low-acreage, specialty crops such as sugar beets, dry beans, sunflowers, chickpeas, potatoes, and more. These crops are extremely important to individual growers and the global economy. Often, the diseases that devastate yields and the quality of these crops have not been identified, and growers are unsure how to manage them. This is the situation Harveson faced when he arrived at PHREC in 1999. He realized that before he could educate growers about management practices, he had to identify the diseases responsible for significant losses. He has since translated his research to journal articles, of which several have improved global identification of specialty crop diseases (i.e., his Plant Disease feature on bacterial wilt with over 5,000 views).

The reach and impact of Harveson’s program is vast. One example is his work on a disease complex that was impacting sugar beet production across the region, an over $1.10 billion industry. Growers thought Rhizoctonia root rot was their problem, but Harveson identified a complex of soilborne pathogens, including Rhizoctonia, Aphanomyces, Pythium, Fusarium, and others. He designed preplant soil assays using sugar beet seedlings to bait out pathogens and devised a disease index that predicted potential root disease problems based on results of the assay.

Through linear regression, the data showed that with each unit increase of the index (0-100), a corresponding decrease of 240 lb of beets (44 lb of sucrose) per acre was experienced. His lab has processed over 4,200 samples (each representing a field), and his test is widely used by regional growers to make preseason-planting decisions. According to Mark Anfinrud, SES Vanderhave sugar beet breeder, “Before adopting this development, we had a field with 500 pollinators with the intention of creating 1,500 new hybrids. We lost 70% of those pollinators to root diseases, which significantly impacted the ability to screen new diverse hybrids for the U.S. sugar beet industry.” By avoiding fields with high disease potential, sugar beet growers have saved millions of dollars.

Harveson’s research on bacterial wilt of dry beans, caused by Curtobacterium flaccumfaciens pv. flaccumfaciens, is another example of taking on a complicated disease problem and devising best management options for growers in a $1 billion industry. He noted that growers were switching from conventional to reduced tillage to conserve groundwater; combined with warmer winters and summers and reduced rainfall, a more favorable microclimate for the pathogen was created. He identified a new strain of C. flaccumfaciens and discovered that the pathogen could survive saprophytically on several rotation crops. This led to the realization that the pathogen was more variable than previously recognized. Discovery of this strain variability revealed the necessity to modify existing resistance breeding protocols, and collaboration with the UNL bean breeder began, screening Phaseolus germplasm against multiple wilt isolates. Because development of genetically resistant germplasm is a slow process, he began evaluating new commercially available copper-alternative chemicals as a stopgap. He obtained positive results, disseminated the information to growers, and now these products are widely used throughout the region. This research has led to collaborations with students and scientists across the world, including South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Nepal, Iran, India, Australia, and Brazil.

Harveson is a prolific publisher, with nearly 800 articles, including 76 refereed scientific journal articles, 154 Extension publications, 122 technical articles, 63 books and/or chapters, and 355 popular press articles. His success in technology transfer has had major positive impacts on grower applications of prescribed BMP and regional farm sustainability. The high esteem in which Harveson is held by the academic community, growers, and commodity groups, throughout the United States and abroad, is verified by his more than 700 invited presentations.

Harveson is highly engaged in service activities. Since 2008, he has served continuously on numerous editorial boards and as editor for four books in the APS Disease Compendium Series: beets, beans, peas, and sunflowers. The combined value of the crops served by these compendia exceeds $7 billion in the U.S. agricultural economy, and these crops are grown globally. Additionally, he has served on six USDA-ARS Program Review Panels (beets, beans, sunflowers). In 2019, he was recognized by the APS North Central Division for his many contributions to our society with the Distinguished Service Award.

Harveson’s service activities include his writings on historical plant pathology. His most recent contribution, A Century of Plant Pathology in Nebraska, is a collection of articles published in book form. He offers similar stories in his monthly Phytopathology News series “Plant Pathology's Perplexing Past​The Rest of the Story,” which is distributed to all APS members, and the APS PRESS book Bacterium of Many Colors, purchased by more than 40 libraries worldwide, including the National Agricultural Library and the Library of Congress. Harveson exudes a passion for “spreading the gospel” to the public. These stories raise public awareness about the importance of plant pathology, its role in social history, and its relevance to people’s daily lives.