John E. Watkins was born in Lander, WY. He attended the University of Wyoming, receiving his B.S. degree in 1968 and M.S. degree in 1970 in dairy microbiology. After a short stint at the Carnation Company, he moved to North Dakota State University to work with G. Statler and L. Littlefield on wheat leaf rust, receiving his Ph.D degree in 1975. He accepted a position at the University of Nebraska as extension plant pathologist and has remained at this institution his entire career. He was promoted to full professor in 1986.
Dr. Watkins’ responsibilities include small grains, especially wheat, forage and pasture grass, turfgrass, and ornamentals. He also serves as statewide coordinator for extension plant pathology in these areas. He is strong in winter wheat, initiating and coordinating a cooperative effort to carry out field surveys to determine incidence, distribution, and severity of wheat diseases. He plays a lead role in the High Plains area, chairing a regional committee for the Great Plains Agricultural Council on wheat streak mosaic virus. The region is concentrating on management of the disease. Dr. Watkins’ small grains and forage disease programs are unique, comining several extension education methods and are a cooperative efort by individuals over a large region.
His extension plant pathology program addressing turfgrass diseases has been successful at the homeowner and professional turfgrass manager levels. This program is a cooperative effort in which he has taken an aggressive approach to turf disease management through cultural practices, use of resistant cultivars, and cost-effective fungicide programs. As a result, Nebraska golf course superindentents are more effectively integrating disease management practices.
All of Dr. Watkins’ extension programs take a balanced approach to information dispersal, including developing extension publications, slide-tape sets, and video cassettes, in addition to field surveys, grower meetings and tours, and mass media materials. They also include participation in the Backyard Farmer program, the longest running garden advice series (38 years) on public television.
His service to the profession has ranged from participating in and chairing regional committees to editorial functions, including associate and senior editor of Plant Disease, section editor of Fungicide and Nematicide Tests, and section editor of Biological and Cultural Tests. He has received recognition individually and as a team in the state, region, and nation, including a Nebraska Cooperative Extension Association’s Distinguished Service Award, an Excellence in Extension Award from the National Association of Wheat Growers, and a Blue Ribbon Award from the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.