175A Johnson Hall
PO Box 646420
Pullman, WA 99164-6420 USA
Reflecting on his 41 years of service to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and 11 years to Washington State University, Dennis Roe credited his wife with having the biggest influence on his career as a conservation agronomist. “When in the midst of so much, she was always there to encourage me,” said Roe. “We both grew up on farms and share an interest in preventing erosion.”
From a boy who knew the many different sizes of wrenches before learning the alphabet, to a young man largely responsible for a 6,000-acre fourth-generation dryland farm near Goldendale, Roe set the foundation for his vocation by raising grain, hay, and livestock.
Roe received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from WSU in 1966. It was in his junior year during a farm management class guest lecture when the tenuous economics of farming sank in. Until then his intentions had been to take his education back to the family farm. “It’s life’s little moments that set your direction at the Y in the road,” said Roe. He decided to leave farming, and with his parent’s approaching retirement, his family sold the farm.
Hired by the NRCS in 1966, Roe served the growers of Whitman County and the Inland Northwest for his entire NRCS career, including a two-year stint in Washington, DC as part of a USDA Farm Bill team from 1995-1996. He also held an adjunct faculty appointment in the WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences from 1996-2007.
Elaborating on the history of NRCS, Roe described its organizational structure as based on a military framework dating back to the Civilian Conservation Corp. Traditionally, staff were expected to move every two years. A realization of changing times occurred in 1970 from a chance visit with the NRCS national personnel director, who encouraged Roe to make the best choice for himself. “For me, in terms of a promotion, my greatest opportunity was staying put,” said Roe. “There have been several opportunities for advancement, from Puerto Rico to DC, but my passion was to work directly with the farmers.”
At the NRCS Roe availed himself to growers trying to manage crop residue for erosion control. Over the years he helped develop 4,200 conservation plans in Whitman County, the basis for a farmer’s eligibility for federal financial incentive programs. He also served on a tri-state team coordinating work among NRCS offices in north Idaho, southeast Washington, and northeast Oregon.
From 1972 to 1980 Roe evaluated field surface conditions and erosion with Verle Kaiser, former USDA-SCS conservation agronomist, then continued this work with USDA-ARS soil scientist Don McCool until 1988. McCool, then a national team member for the Soil Loss Equation model, used this data to adapt the model to the western region. This software is now used routinely by NRCS to develop conservation plans.
From 1998 to 2005, SARE research with former WSU/UI conservation tillage Extension specialist Roger Veseth provided Roe funding to complete research on seven direct-seeded farms and publish direct-seed case studies on 16 farms.
In 2002 Roe’s interest in oilseed and oilseed technology moved him to collaborate with UI scientists Jack Brown, Charles Peterson, Joe Thompson, and Jon Van Gerpen. They were experimenting with oilseeds as a possible broadleaf crop in a wheat rotation, and also studying oilseed technology (i.e., biodiesel). Since then Roe has given numerous presentations and oilseed crushing demonstrations.
Roe’s fondest memories over the years are many, but a common theme is seeing changes in the ways families farm from generation to generation, adopting new ideas and technology. “I can also associate the families of many of these young people today by recalling their grandfathers’ faces,” said Roe.
Despite retiring on June 20, 2007, Roe continues his conservation tillage research activities with Hans Kok, WSU/UI conservation tillage Extension specialist, albeit on a part-time basis. He and his wife Eileen also enjoy spending time with their four children and 12 grandchildren, all residing in the Pacific Northwest. Incidentally, Roe did manage to hang on to one acre of the family farm for sentimental reasons—“or a condo development,” he joked.