Brandon Gerrish, Ph.D., started recently as the new Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service statewide small grains and oilseed specialist, but there’s very little new to Gerrish about the job.

a man, Brandon Gerrish, stands holding on to a John Deere green tractor with a planter/cultivator behind it. Gerrish is the new AgriLife Extension small grains specialist
Brandon Gerrish, Ph.D., will lead Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s small grains and oilseed program across the state. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Gerrish completed his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, where he worked in the very program he has returned to lead.

While completing his undergraduate work, Gerrish was a student worker in the Cotton Improvement Lab and then with Amir Ibrahim, Ph.D., wheat breeder and professor, while he completed his master’s.

Next, he took an assistantship position with Clark Neely, Ph.D., who then held the position Gerrish has returned to fill. Neely and Ibrahim were his co-advisors during his doctorate, focusing on barley for forage production as well as Hessian fly resistance.

Continuing to work with Neely after graduation as a technician, Gerrish found himself filling in as the interim for about six months when Neely left the College. He then worked as the lead technician of the cereal variety testing program at Washington State University.

Gerrish said he had a plan as he earned his bachelor’s in plant and environmental soil science — he was among the first group in the department to get that degree, which was changed from an agronomy degree. He followed that with a master’s in plant breeding and a doctorate in molecular and environmental plant science.

“But my goal changed over the years,” he said. “Coming out of my bachelor’s and moving into my master’s, I really enjoyed plant breeding and was thinking about going more down the plant breeding route. But I got to know Clark and what he did, and it seemed more appealing to me.

“I still love the concept of plant breeding, you know, developing varieties that farmers grow, but I gained a desire to be out on the front lines working with farmers on a daily basis. So that’s what persuaded me to go more along the AgriLife Extension route.”

Finding his niche helping farmers

Gerrish said the backbone of his program is coordinating the statewide small grains crop variety testing. Individually, he will oversee trials in South Texas and the Blackland region. But he also helps coordinate trials in the Rolling Plains and the High Plains, working with AgriLife Extension agronomists Emi Kimura, Ph.D., Vernon; Reagan Noland, Ph.D., San Angelo; Calvin Trostle, Ph.D., Lubbock; and Jourdan Bell, Ph.D., Amarillo.

Returning to familiar duties and coworkers has helped speed the transition into his new role, but he still expects to do a lot of learning this first year.

“My goal is to get a good understanding of how all the cropping systems work across the entire state,” Gerrish said. “One of the challenges of being a statewide specialist in such a big state is that there’s a lot of area to cover and many microclimates. What works here isn’t going to work there. I want to make sure we’re doing the variety testing right and that our trial data gets back to the farmers, county agents or whoever needs it in a timely manner.”

Farmers need the information to order their seed quite a bit ahead of planting, so Gerrish said he wants to ensure a process is set up to get that information out. Part of that effort will be to develop a database, keeping things organized so data can be analyzed and returned quickly to the producers.

Wheat primarily, but adding forage trials

By far, the biggest portion of the variety trials are hard red winter wheat in the High Plains, Rolling Plains, Central Texas and Blacklands, with a few in South Texas, Gerrish said. But this first year, he will also have a couple of hard red spring wheat trials along the Coastal Bend.

“As you get up into the Blacklands area and northeast Texas, you see a lot of soft red wheat, and so in some of those locations, we do both hard red winter and soft red winter trials at the same site,” he said. “That’s the transition point, where further east, soft wheat is going to do a little better, and if you’re a little farther west, the hard will do a little better.”

Gerrish said he will continue to conduct multi-species forage trials that include oat, triticale, barley and sometimes ryegrass varieties in addition to wheat. He will also look to expand the scope of their trials to include more wheat dual-purpose and possibly some barley grain trials. He said the barley trials are prompted by maltsters across Texas who want Texas-grown barleys.

“I see us putting more emphasis on dual-purpose trials,” he said. “We’ll plant them a little earlier than grain-only trials, and we’ll cut them once to simulate being grazed by cattle to get an idea of the potential forage production. Then, we’ll let them regrow and harvest the grain to see how good the grain production is following the simulated grazing.

Another important aspect of his job is cool-season oilseeds like canola, which can be cyclical in interest and demand.

“Mainly, I look forward to interacting with producers in this new role,” Garrish said. “I’m excited about getting to help them solve problems. I’m really looking forward to seeing them at field days and listening to what they want and need.”

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