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Stephen A. Johnston Student Travel Grant

The Stephen A. Johnston Student Travel Fund was made possible by donations from his friends and colleagues, and the Northeastern Division of APS. Steve died in an accident on April 16, 2003, while helping a neighbor cut a tree. Steve was not only a great plant pathologist but a key person in the Northeastern Division, and an important participant within APS. He was a great friend to many of us in APS.

Stephen A. Johnston

Steve was one of the senior members of the Plant Pathology Department at Rutgers University. He joined the plant pathology faculty in July 1977 and was stationed at the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Education Center in Bridgeton, NJ. His primary responsibility was to conduct a research and extension program directed toward the etiology, epidemiology, and management of fungal pathogens associated with vegetable crops. He worked tirelessly for the department and for the growers of New Jersey and was recognized as a leader in the agricultural community in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Among Johnston’s greatest strengths was his commitment to his clientele, including growers, agricultu​ral agents, and the public at large. He exemplified all that an excellent extension specialist should be and developed a well-rounded program that integrated applied research with extension and teaching activities.

A large component of Steve’s program focused on reducing fungicide use and enhancing the efficacy of various disease management practices in vegetable crops. He developed an innovative research program that combined environmental and cultural considerations with the use of pesticides to manage diseases of great economic importance to vegetable growers in the region. For example, when a new mating type of Phytophthora infestans threatened New Jersey potato production in the mid-1990s, Steve helped to avert an epidemic by obtaining a special Section 18 Emergency Exemption Registration for the fungicides needed to combat this disease. Steve conducted fungicide efficacy trials in the laboratory and the field and studied populations of the fungus to understand its epidemiology and spread. He also successfully evaluated and implemented the Potato Late Blight Fax Forecast System for potato growers via the Rutgers Vegetable IPM Program. Through Steve’s countless contacts with growers via extension meetings, field visits, and phone calls, growers were able to avoid disaster and now have a much better understanding of the biology of potato late blight and its management.

Steve had similar successes with diseases affecting other crops, such as tomatoes and peppers. Processing tomato growers, using the TOM-CAST forecasting system evaluated and implemented by Steve, have optimized fungicide applications to protect tomatoes from foliar and fruit diseases. To his credit, almost none of the fruit produced by growers using this system has been rejected at the processor since the program’s inception. In other areas of research, Steve conducted work on the epidemiology, etiology, biological control, cultural management, and efficacy of fungicides for a number of vegetable diseases. He also worked extensively on the effectiveness of soil solarization in greenhouses and evaluated fungicidal volatiles produced by cruciferous crops. Through his extension and research efforts, vegetable growers throughout the region have been able to maintain productivity and profitability.

Steve was considered one of the top vegetable extension plant pathologists in the United States. He was highly successful in attracting funding from diverse sources and consistently published his research findings in quality publications, including refereed and nonrefereed journals, research reports, and proceedings. Among his many honors, Steve was awarded the APS Northeastern Division Award of Merit in 2000 and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Award of Excellence in 1999. He also served as an invited member of the Western Regional IPM Peer Review Panel in 1999 and participated on the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel in Washington, DC, in 1995.

Steve’s commitment to the Rutgers Plant Pathology Department and to education in the discipline of plant pathology was epitomized by his willingness to actively participate in on-campus activities. Although Steve was stationed approximately 100 miles from campus and had no formal teaching appointment, he participated fully in undergraduate and graduate courses at Rutgers University. He devoted countless hours to student mentoring, serving as mentor for 10 graduate students in plant pathology, and worked as a tireless advocate of the Plant Pathology Department at the university.

Throughout his career, Steve served his profession with distinction: he was president of the APS Northeastern Division, served as senior editor of Plant Disease, and actively participated on many APS committees. Steve also participated extensively in the IR4 program, which evaluates fungicides for minor use crops. In 2001, Steve was asked to replace Bob Nyvall as editor-in-chief of Phytopathology News. Despite a busy schedule at the peak of his career, Steve agreed to serve in this capacity. He enjoyed the challenge and was in the second year of his appointment at the time of his death.

Many who knew Steve well were privileged to share in his enjoyment of life. He loved sports and outdoor activities, and many of these revolved around his farm near Carney’s Point, NJ. Every year, the onset of summer was accompanied by barbeques and swimming parties that included large groups of family and friends from all around the region.

True to form, Steve was helping a friend when he was killed by a sudden snap of a tree that they were removing. The hundreds of family members, friends, and colleagues who attended his memorial service attest to the depth and breadth of Steve’s impact on those who knew him well. A recurring comment throughout the gathering was how we all will remember Steve with his ever-present smile and how much we all will miss that smile and the man behind it. Steve is survived by his wife Faith, his two sons Adam and Matthew, and his mother Elizabeth. Steve’s family has established a scholarship fund in support of graduate students in plant pathology. In the same manner, the APS Northeastern Division is proud to establish an APS Student Travel Grant​ to honor the memory of Stephen A. Johnston.