Potato Grower

July 2021

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14 POTATO GROWER | JULY 2021 They say once potatoes get in your blood, it's hard to get them out. Bob Thornton and the prodigious amount of important potato research he and his progeny have done appear to be proof of that. Thornton retired from his post with Washington State University Extension in 2004 as one of the world's most respected potato researchers. But his sons Sam, Rob and Mike have done a more than admirable job of carrying on the family tradition. Let's start with the patriarch. Bob Thornton began his career as a research plant breeder for the University of Idaho, then as a research agronomist for the J.R. Simplot Company. In 1967, he was hired as an extension horticulturist at Thornton Family WSU, where he really made a name for himself. He spearheaded the planning and execution of the Washington State Potato Conference (now the Washington-Oregon Potato Conference) for 34 years. He served as president of the Potato Association of America (PAA) in 1982 and was later named an honorary lifetime member of the organization. Bob was an early adopter and proponent of concepts related to proper handling of harvested potatoes to reduce bruise and increase crop value, and was a trusted voice in developing and releasing many now-widely grown varieties in the U.S. He mentored dozens of undergraduate and graduate students who went on to have exemplary careers in the potato industry; notable Bob Thornton protégés include Rick Knowles, Mark Pavek, Nora Olsen and Carrie Wohleb. But his most heavily influenced students were undoubtedly his own children. Sam Thornton currently works as the strategic account manager of seed and soil health for UPL and lives in Moses Lake, Wash. He spent several years as director of research for the Washington State Potato Commission, followed by a stint with Syngenta, where he focused on fungicide seed treatments and was a pioneer in gaining widespread industry acceptance of liquid seed protection formulations. In 2007, Sam served as PAA president and was later named an Bob Thornton, center, with his children (from left) Lisa Larson and Sam, Mike and Rob Thornton

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