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Research, potatoes, grass and water

H&N photo by Gary Thain
Ken Rykbost retired last week after 33 years of potato research, 18 of them at the Klamath Experiment Station.

March 6, 2006 by HOLLY OWENS, H&N Staff Writer

He's grown a lot of potatoes over the years. But that was just for work.

“I've never had a garden since I've been involved in field research,” said Ken Rykbost, who retired Feb. 28, from the Oregon State University Klamath Experiment Station.

“I always had a good supply of potatoes.”

Rykbost put in his last day at the station Tuesday. He retired as superintendent of the station May 2003, but continued working part-time.

“I wasn't ready to retire yet,” Rykbost said. “There were a lot of things going on.”

He's been growing potatoes for 33 years. He started in field research with potatoes in New York, and then moved to New Brunswick, Canada, to work for McCain Foods - the world's No. 1 producer of frozen fries.

In 1987, Rykbost started at the Klamath station. Over the years, he did some work with sugar beets, but his main focus was potatoes - variety development, cultivation and management practices. Three red potato varieties he helped develop all have names tied to Basin history - Mazama, Winema and Modoc.

The groundwork for some of Rykbost's research was laid before he started. His predecessor, George Carter, needing ground for nematode research, brought in loads of culled potatoes infested with the parasitic worms.

“It worked,” Rykbost said.

But the most sensational research at the station was done on a fast-growing Ethiopian grass - teff.

The station has been conducting research on the annual grass for the past three years. The uproar started when an article about teff experiments was printed in the February 2005 issue of Hay and Forage.

The response was overwhelming. More than 300 inquiries came in from 46 states.

“For two weeks I did nothing but answer phone calls and e-mail about teff,” Rykbost said.

Brian Charlton will take over Rykbost's research at the station. And even though he's retired, Rykbost expects he could get the occasional call from potato growers seeking advice. Over the years, he's developed a great deal of respect for potato growers in the Basin.

“There aren't a finer bunch of people to work with,” Rykbost said. “They're a great bunch of people.”

Rykbost and his wife Shirley will stay in Klamath Falls, but plan to travel, visiting friends and family across the United States and Canada. And he plans to get some fishing in, too.

He has no plans for a garden, but may drop in to see what's growing at the station.

“I'll probably be around once in a while,” Rykbost said.

Photo courtesy of Klamath Experiment Station
Ken Rykbost sits between rows of potato varieties at the Klamath Experiment Station in the early 1990s. Rykbost, who started at the station in 1987, retired last week.



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