Dr. Frank Louws has been associated with vegetable and fruit production agriculture since his youth in southern Ontario, Canada. During his B.S. studies in Horticulture from the University of Guelph, a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) undergraduate scholarship enticed him to plant pathology leading to an NSERC-funded M.S. in plant pathology from Guelph in 1987. A subsequent rewarding experience as a Horticultural Crop Advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food sealed his interest in research-based extension education. This led to an NSERC scholarship and later a Mott Pre-doctoral Fellowship for Sustainable Agriculture to complete a PhD at Michigan State University in 1994. After two years at the NSF Center for Microbial Ecology as a Postdoctoral Fellow, he was hired at North Carolina State University with a 70% extension and 30% research appointment. Currently, he manages his research and extension program while serving as the Director of the NSF Center for Integrated Pest Management.
Dr. Louws has an internationally recognized extension program in vegetable and fruit pathology that masterfully integrates problem solving discovery research with a comprehensive extension program. He has authored 58 peer-reviewed publications, 3 research reviews, 64 contributions to books or published proceedings, 60 applied research publications and 9 book chapters in addition to 127 published abstracts. His publications emphasize the biology, ecology and management of pathogens or microbial ecology within strawberry, tomato and sustainable/organic production systems. He works diligently, often collaboratively with other plant pathologists and extension specialists, to translate available research-based information into extension products useful for growers. This has resulted in 62 extension bulletins (several with annual updates) and 264 factsheets, newsletters/popular press articles and digital-based products. He is a sought after speaker with 101 national and international invited talks and over 376 in-state and out-of-state extension and research-based presentations. He has also advised 13 graduate students, served on 30 additional student committees, mentored 43 undergrads and 21 postdocs, visiting scholars, technicians or senior scientists. Several of his mentees have secured tenure track positions in extension programs or as leaders in private industry. His research and extension program has been supported by over $17 million in external funds.
Dr. Louws is best recognized for his internationally acclaimed research and extension program and his leadership in the development of alternative strategies for disease control in specialty crops. Most notably are the contributions of his program addressing the phase-out of methyl bromide as a soil fumigant to manage soilborne pathogens of specialty crops, a grand challenge to agriculture in the southeast and world-wide. He developed an interdisciplinary and stakeholder-driven/participatory program with three components in parallel, including: 1) tactic substitution that addressed short term needs of growers who sought non-ozone depleting fumigant alternatives; 2) tactic diversification that focused on medium term alternatives and included non-fumigant and IPM-based tactics; and 3) tactic development that advanced long-term goals to explore microbial ecology and farming systems-based approaches not dependent on fumigants.
A major tactic diversification outcome has been the exploration and implementation of vegetable grafting for solanaceous and cucurbit fruiting vegetables in field production systems funded by the USDA specialty crop research (SCRI) program. In addition to his research and extension program in this area, Dr. Louws is the project director of a team of over 32 senior and new career faculty spread over 10 institutions from the southeast to northwest. Major outcomes, to date, include strategic partnerships with domestic and international companies to integrate grafting technologies into major stakeholder industries (seed, robotics and nursery/propagation companies), and linking these partners to diverse fruiting-vegetable growers. Since the inception of the project, multiple seed and grafting supply companies have a new or stronger presence in the U.S. Nurseries have invested millions of dollars (infrastructure, personnel) to produce grafted plants with new or expanded companies in multiple U.S. states and Canadian provinces. New operations are able to graft several thousand plants per year, others over 200,000 per week. Diverse organic, high tunnel, and large scale conventional growers have adopted the use of grafted plants to manage diseases and abiotic stress factors, to enhance productivity, profitability and resilience and capture emerging market opportunities (e.g. heirloom vegetables).
The SCRI team that Dr. Louws directs has had a productive assemblage of outputs since 2011 that included 37 peer reviewed publications; 17 proceedings; 166 research and 88 extension vegetable grafting-related presentations in over 16 states and 5 countries; 61 hands-on workshops/classes in 14 states; 70 print or digital extension products; 4 national vegetable grafting symposia that engaged 97 companies, 11 organizations, 24 universities, and 11 countries; a highly utilized website (vegetablegrafting.org); and a priority to train the next generation (including 18 graduate students and a cadre of undergraduate workers). Dr. Louws and his team have secured a new USDA-SCRI grant to further enable the capacity to produce and profitably optimize use of grafted vegetables.
Dr. Louws has also served the plant pathology discipline in multiple ways. He was senior editor of Phytopathology and section editor of the Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology. He served on multiple national competitive grant review panels, was panel manager for a USDA-ARS national program evaluation and a team member of a land grant plant pathology departmental review. He is a founding executive member of the National IPM Coordinating Committee as part of the APLU. He has been Co-Chair of the APS Special Bacteriology Regulation Committee, a member of the APS Vision Forum, and Chair of the APS Bacteriology Committee. He has been honored with several awards that highlight his extension contributions including the NC Strawberry Association Outstanding Service Award shared with other NC State Specialists. He was the leader for team awards related to soilborne pest and disease management outcomes including the American Society for Horticulture Science (ASHS) Outstanding Extension Paper Award (2009) and the 2010 NC Cooperative Extension Service Foundation Grange Search for Excellence. ASHS also bestowed a team award for the 2009 Extension Materials Book Award for the Southeastern U.S. Vegetable Crop Handbook.