Corn and soybeans may be the dominant crops grown in Iowa, but there is plenty of opportunity for specialty crops, including fruits, according to the newest fruit crop specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Suzanne Slack, assistant professor and fruit crops specialist, plans to help Iowa’s fruit crop growers overcome challenges and increase their chances of success.
“My goal is to help them improve their fruit crops, both in helping with grower knowledge as well as making recommendations that can increase yields, crop diversity and sustainability,” said Slack, who began with the university in November. “I think there are a lot of opportunities here in Iowa and I look forward to working with Iowa growers and the fruit crop industry.”
Slack grew up on a small family farm in western Pennsylvania, where she helped with organic grain and fruit production. She earned her undergraduate degree in horticulture from Penn State in 2012, and her Master’s and doctoral degrees in plant pathology from Michigan State, with an emphasis on apple, cherry and peach trees.
After graduating Michigan State in December 2020, Slack completed a short postdoc in North Carolina focusing on vine decline and dieback of grapes.
Slack said the challenges of producing fruits in the Midwest are ever-changing, just as they are for conventional crop growers. In recent years, fruit growers have battled extreme weather events, including extreme heat and extreme cold.
She said fruit crop producers must adapt to better management practices in order to be successful during weather extremes. She is particularly interested in studying plant stress and resilience, and providing more solutions to Midwest growers.
Slack is as passionate about teaching young growers and students as she is about teaching the industry. In addition to extension, she holds a research and teaching appointment at Iowa State.
“Suzanne brings a wide breadth of expertise and experience in horticulture and plant pathology of fruit crops,” said George Sundin, distinguished professor and extension specialist at Michigan State. “She has an excellent rapport with growers and will work closely with them to ensure that she is addressing their most important problems.”
While at Michigan State, she was the lead instructor for an introductory plant pathology course and taught lab sections for senior level classes. At Iowa State, she plans to show students how to do everything fruit related: from planting design, growing season management, and harvesting to postharvest preservation.
In her free time, she enjoys running and cycling, and spending time with her dog, Ranger, at local parks. She is also pretty good at video games.