Dr. Nicole Ward Gauthier is a 2011 graduate of the Department of Plant Pathology. Upon completion of her doctorate, she joined the University of Kentucky as an Extension specialist for fruit, ornamentals, and forest trees. Recently, she added industrial hemp to her commodity assignment and a diagnostics-focused class to her schedule.
“My tenure as a graduate student is a fond memory that I will never forget,” she says of her years of soybean research with Dr. Raymond Schneider. The close-knit team focused on soybean rust and Cercospora leaf blight in an applied setting. “I gained field experience that gave me a solid understanding of applied research, lab skills that keep me striving for cutting edge approaches, and networking opportunities that help me put it all together.”
The transition from soybean in the south to ornamentals and fruit in the mid-Atlantic/Midwest was challenging. A twelve-year landscaping business was a start, but it took a broad training to make that transition successful. Nonetheless, she credits her solid training in the LSU Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology for the foundation that she needed to become a successful Extension specialist.
Soon upon settling into her position, Dr. Gauthier recognized a regionally-specific disease challenge in apple orchards. Bitter rot, known to be caused by Colletotrichum acutatum, C. gloeosporioides, and Glomerella cingulata was often unresponsive to some fungicides, in some years, and/or in some orchards. With the assistance of her lab group, they identified five species of Colletotrichum that caused bitter rot. The species all had different pathogenicities and fungicide sensitivities, which may help explain unpredictability in disease management. Results will be applied to individual orchard situations, and the group will assist growers with individualized disease-management programs.
She admits that an Extension career feels like a day at the park. With 120 counties and over 150 county Extension agents, Dr. Gauthier focuses on relationships so that all stakeholders are supported. Relationships with stakeholders, teachable moments, and hands-on workshops are anything but work. Together, she and agents provide a range of trainings and resources for diverse growers and stakeholders. As part of her Extension duties, Dr. Gauthier provides growers with disease management recommendations including the identification, biology, and management of pathological organisms. Her back-to-basics approach includes FRAC codes and fungicide rotations, with a focus on cultural practices (especially sanitation). Her publications range from traditional fact sheets to spray guides and from videos to social media updates – all of which are intended to provide growers and other professionals with quick disease management solutions.
Dr. Nicole Ward Gauthier was awarded the 2015 New Faculty Extension Specialist, bestowed by her peers in the Kentucky Association of State Extension Professionals.