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University of Florida snatches up WSU Extension's Jim and Mercy Olmstead

Two of Washington State University Extension Office's promising young minds will soon be leaving the Yakima Valley for the "Sunshine State."

Doctors Jim and Mercy Olmstead will soon be working for the University of Florida.

Jim is a native of Grandview and met Mercy, a native of Warren, Mich., when the pair were graduate students studying to receive their Master's degrees from Washington State University in horticulture. They were conducting their studies at Prosser's Experiment Station and both graduated in 2000.

Her Master's degree is in grapes and his is in cherries "...as is with family tradition," Mercy joked since Jim's family is well known in the Lower Yakima Valley for its cherry farms.

The couple married the summer after graduating from WSU and moved to Michigan to pursue their Doctorate degrees at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

"She started a couple of years before me," explained Jim. He worked as a research technician at Michigan State for three years before entering into the Ph.D. program.

"We didn't want to continue living like graduate students," he quipped.

With a plan to return to the Lower Yakima Valley and intent to replace WSU researcher Jack Watson upon his retirement, Mrs. Olmstead sought her doctorates in the field of horticulture, with an emphasis on cherries. Researcher Gwen Hoheisel now holds that position, but Mrs. Olmstead was able to secure a position with the extension service as the Director of Viticulture and Enology in 2004, leaving her husband at the University of Michigan for two years.

"We did a lot of traveling during that time," said Mercy.

Mr. Olmstead completed his doctorate studies in plant breeding and genetics in 2006 and returned to the extension service as a post-doctorate researcher, managing the cherry breeding program.

November 2007 he became an extension educator at Washington State University's Yakima station.

The couple's career paths recently changed because the University of Florida came calling. That university recruited Mr. Olmstead to lead its blueberry breeding and genetics program.

"I get to return to my first academic love," he said.

Fortunately for his wife, there was also a position available for someone with a background in stone fruits. That position will afford her the opportunity to work researching peaches and plums.

The timing was right and the specifics associated with the position were well-suited to her resume.

"I haven't worked with peaches and plums, but cherries are a stone fruit and it is very similar research," said Mrs. Olmstead.

The peach and plum industries in Florida are just beginning to grow and the state is seeking ways to help the industries through research.

Mr. Olmstead said, "It's going to be a big adventure. I'm really looking forward to it because the program is strong and I feel this is an opportunity to get back into the study of breeding, which the (WSU) extension service just doesn't do."

He and his wife agree they will miss friends and family members in the Lower Yakima Valley, but said they plan to visit often.

"I am excited for the weather, especially thunderstorms since I am from Michigan. It will be a new opportunity to learn because we will both be working in areas we aren't completely familiar with because the fruits are different (than those of our background)," said Mrs. Olmstead.

The couple said they have enjoyed those with whom they have worked over the past few years. "I'll certainly miss the grape industry because they have been welcoming and receptive to the research done at the extension services and they have welcomed me," Mrs. Olmstead added.

"It's just the right time for our family," Jim stated.

The couple will be leaving their Grandview home and the Lower Yakima Valley next month.

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