Craig Cogger ’72
Washington State University
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
Day after day, Craig Cogger's professional life gets trampled. But as a soil scientist on the faculty at Washington State University, he's accustomed to getting down and dirty in his chosen field.
"When I was a sophomore at Bowdoin," he says "everyone took a career aptitude test. I remember the results of mine came back with biologist, chemist, and farmer suggested as the three careers that best suited my interests and aptitude. Biologist and chemist were not much of a surprise, since I was a chemistry major and enjoyed it. But I had no idea where farmer came from. I was a city boy in Hartford, Connecticut, and the closest I had been to farming was the small vegetable garden we had behind our house."
After Bowdoin, Craig went on to the graduate program in chemistry at Cornell, where he soon found that he didn't enjoy pure chemistry as much as he had as an undergraduate. He began "knocking on doors around the campus," looking for a place with a more applied approach to science. "I found a soil scientist who needed a student who knew some chemistry," he continues, "and by the luck of the draw I began a career in soils." At Cornell, Craig studied phosphorus chemistry, searching for ways to reduce phosphorus losses from cultivated organic soils into the waterways feeding the Great Lakes. Along the way he learned how to operate a tractor and milk cows and spent time as a farmhand to learn more about agricultural life.
Employed by the soil science department at North Carolina State University in the early 1980s, Craig studied septic system performance in different types of soils and worked at developing and evaluating waste management systems for use in coastal areas. He joined the faculty at Washington State University, at the Puyallup Research and Extension Center, in 1984, where he has worked on a number of research projects, including wetland soil chemistry, pesticide fate in agricultural soils, and organic waste management.
For the last 10 years Craig's work has focused on recycling organic wastes in agriculture - including animal manure, yard debris, compost, and biosolids (treated sewage sludge). These organic materials are slow-release fertilizers, Craig explains, and only a portion of the nutrients becomes available in the season after they are applied. "The rate of nutrient supply is different for each source of material. Our objective has been to determine how to predict nutrient supply from different organic wastes so that we know how much to apply to meet the needs of the crops without increasing nutrient loss into ground water or surface water." Craig and his team conduct field experiments on commercial farms across Washington State and on their own research farm at Puyallup using lab studies and modeling to help generalize the fieldwork and make recommendations to farmers, solid waste regulators, and producers of organic wastes.
Craig and his colleagues are now extending their work with organic amendments to urban areas as a way to improve urban soils. They're also beginning new projects with organic farmers and are collaborating with other scientists to study the effects of organic amendments on plant disease suppression, and projects with economists who are measuring the costs and benefits of using these materials.
In addition to his research, Craig teaches basic soils to Master Gardeners throughout western Washington, and teaches soils workshops for septic system professionals and others in related fields.