Noted nematologist Gerald S. Santo has been named the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Outstanding Alumnus for 2018. As a Washington State University (WSU) professor and plant pathologist/nematologist, he saved Pacific Northwest farmers millions of dollars through use of cultural practices and nematicides to control specific nematode infestations in the soil, resulting in improved yields in potatoes and other crops.
Reared in Kapoho on Hawaiʻi Island, the Pāhoa High School graduate earned his bachelor’s in tropical agriculture and master’s in plant pathology at UH Mānoa before completing a PhD in plant pathology-nematology from the University of California at Davis. He spent his career in Prosser, along the Yakima River in the Columbia Basin, serving for three decades at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center and continuing after retirement to assist growers with plant and soil analysis by operating Northwest Nema-Lab.
Santo’s pioneering work on the life cycles, population dynamics, diversity and distribution of nematode species provided the building blocks to understand nematode-incited diseases and manage one of the most significant crop production pests in the region. Nematodes are unsegmented worms such as roundworms, many of which can cause disease. Idaho, Oregon and Washington produce 64 percent of the nation’s potatoes. The Columbia root-knot nematode causes bumps and brown spots on potatoes, resulting in losses as high as 70 percent to farmers and devaluation or rejection of entire fields by processors. Santo discovered the previously unidentified nematode species responsible—Meloidogyne chitwoodi—and developed effective control strategies. His work on that and other nematode pests has also benefited economically important crops ranging from carrots and sugar beets to mint and alfalfa to apples and grapes.
“For my grower stakeholders and colleagues, Gerry and his company’s services and advice have been important, in fact crucial, both before and after his retirement from WSU,” commented Andrew Jensen, manager of the Northwest Potato Research Consortium.
Santo’s research program attracted nearly $3 million in grant funding and produced more than 50 scientific articles and a like number of extension and popular press articles. He was active in several professional societies, elected president of the Society of Nematologists and awarded its CIBA-Geigy Award for advancement of knowledge about plant diseases and their control. He is widely praised for mentoring students and other scientists, freely sharing knowledge and techniques that remain in use today.
Santo has generously volunteered his time and talents in the community, coaching youth sports, developing leadership classes at his church, serving on the board of Haiti ARISE and contributing to the rebuilding of Haitian orphanages and schools following the 2010 earthquake and subsequent hurricane. In the words of his pastor, Rodney Stutzman, Santo’s accomplishments are “reflected in other people’s lives being implicitly bettered because they have been instructed, lead and mentored by Gerry Santo.”
He will be honored at CTAHR’s 30th Annual Awards Banquet on May 4 at the Ala Moana Hotel.