LSU AgCenter loses two faculty members in 2012

Linda Benedict, Bogren, Richard C.  |  5/22/2013 11:32:50 PM

Don Ferrin at right

Ron Sheffield

The LSU AgCenter lost two members of its faculty in 2012 with the untimely deaths of Ron Sheffield and Don Ferrin.

Sheffield, a water specialist in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, died on Nov. 24, and Ferrin, plant pathology extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, died on Dec. 25.

Sheffield received his bachelor’s degree from Unity College, Unity, Maine; his master’s degree from Virginia Tech; and his doctorate from North Carolina State University.

He joined the AgCenter in 2008, following stints with the University of Idaho and North Carolina State University.

Sheffield’s expertise included irrigation, water quality and water management, along with animal waste air quality.

“He was vibrant, robust, and never complained,” said Bill Branch, who had been the state water specialist before retiring in 2008. Sheffield replaced Branch, but Branch returned to the AgCenter part-time to help out as Sheffield battled illness.

“Ron had a marvelous speaking voice,” Branch said. “He could carry a room without a microphone.”

Sheffield spoke frequently to many audiences and conducted two-day sessions for irrigation contractors so they could prepare for for the state exam, Branch said.

He developed significant working relationships with counterparts in other universities, including Texas A&M University, New Mexico State University, Arkansas State University, Mississippi State University and North Carolina State.

“He had high energy and was very honest,” said Steve Hall, associate professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. “He wanted to get the facts right.”

Sheffield used his position in the department to teach and advise students, Hall said.

“He wanted students to be thinkers – to ask themselves, ‘What does this really mean?’” Hall said. “He always wanted to make things practical. He helped students understand practical applications of engineering.”

Hall called Sheffield “a very good teacher in nontraditional environments.” He worked with the senior design program at the undergraduate level, offering a unique perspective.

“Ron’s role was critical in issues of water quality, fresh water and saltwater intrusion. He was an extremely talented and skilled specialist and innovative in areas of water resources,” said Paul Coreil, former vice chancellor and extension director.

Born in Rochester, Minn., in 1951, Ferrin received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Michigan State University and his doctorate in plant pathology from the University of Florida.

Ferrin joined the AgCenter in 2005, after having worked 10 years for a private laboratory in California. Earlier he had worked for a flower and ornamental plant producer in Florida before earning his doctorate. After a one-year post-doctoral position at the University of Florida, he joined the faculty at the University of California-Riverside.

At the AgCenter, Ferrin developed, presented and participated in educational programs, delivering extension and research materials to commercial fruit, landscape, ornamental plant, turf and vegetable producers. His position with the AgCenter gave him statewide responsibility for plant pathology education programs for all horticultural crops, including turf, ornamentals, fruits, vegetables and sweet potatoes.

He initiated the first-ever series of Louisiana plant pathology disease identification and management fact sheets on symptoms and signs of plant diseases. He also updated the Louisiana pesticide certification and recertification programs.

“His contributions were a remarkable testament to extension outreach,” said Lawrence Datnoff, head of the plant pathology department. “It is remarkable considering the large number of horticultural crops he had to cover.”

Ferrin was successful in competing for grants from government agencies and private companies and participated in grant-funded programs worth nearly $3.5 million.

“Don was intelligent, kind, patient and always curious about plant diseases,” Datnoff said. “He was innovative and creative, had a splendid, subtle wit and was an absolute pleasure to be around.”

“He was one of the most dedicated scientists and extension specialists we have had. He was very quiet, but very effective. The county agents respected him a lot,” Coreil said.

Rick Bogren is a professor and science writer in Communications.

(This article was published in the winter 2013 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

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