Dr Ted M Webster
Dr Ted M Webster USDAARS Research Agronomist standing in a field of tropical spiderwort after field corn harvest in Grady County Ga in 2003 He died at age 46 on Feb 16 2016

Ted Webster: A behind-the-scenes weed man gone too soon

Dr. Ted M. Webster, a USDA-ARS research agronomist in Tifton, Ga., passed away Feb. 16. He was 46.

Recently, the weed science and agricultural community lost one of those people who worked behind the curtain to make our jobs in Extension that much easier.  Dr. Ted M. Webster, a USDA-ARS research agronomist in Tifton, Ga., passed away Feb. 16. He was 46.

Although his name and face might not be recognizable to regular readers of this column or Southeast Farm Press, Ted was with us on every farm visit and helped us deliver our message at over 850 county production meetings that we have attended during the last 17 years.

Since we arrived in Georgia as a team in 1999, we have been faced with many weed science challenges.  Some of these include tropical spiderwort, herbicide-resistant weeds (especially Palmer amaranth), and the loss of methyl bromide.  Without the technical support of Dr. Webster, we would not have been able to deliver the timely and reliable solutions to these problems.

Our public duties as Extension specialists frequently prevent us from conducting the type of in-depth research that is needed to solve a problem.  Ted truly bridged this gap between research and Extension.  For example, Dr. Webster's work enlightened us all about the biology of tropical spiderwort and the effects of burial depth on Palmer amaranth seed germination and survival.  This biological research data was key to our ability in developing sound management programs exploiting the few weaknesses he identified with these weeds.

We might have perished if not for Ted

Arguably, Ted’s greatest research impact came with his work on replacing methyl bromide.  More than a decade ago, it was decided that the EPA needed to remove methyl bromide from the marketplace for our vegetable producers. It was Dr. Webster who developed the single-most important piece of data on the spread of nutsedge and the impact of nutsedge on vegetable production. This data was critical in using sound science to help the EPA understand that the removal of methyl bromide needed to occur over a transition period allowing effective alternatives to be developed.  For this work, the Georgia Team was awarded the EPA’s Montreal Protocol Award for assisting in the preservation of the ozone layer and saving lives.

On a more personal note, Ted was crucial in our movement up the ladder in the academic world of UGA.  As an outstanding statistician and interpreter of data, Ted was a regular co-author of the scientific journal writing that is often required of young, dark-haired assistant and associate professors.  You might have heard the phrase "publish or perish" in reference to that requirement.  We might have perished if not for Ted!

As Extension weed specialists at the University of Georgia, it is our job to deliver the weed science gospel to all that choose to listen.  Consequently, many growers recognize our faces and we get a lot of public attention.  However, most folks may not realize how many people like Dr. Ted Webster have contributed to the science that we deliver.  Researchers, technicians, county Extension agents, office support staff, graduate students and under-graduate students provide countless hours of time and effort into supporting us. That’s the Land-Grant Mission in action!!!!

Someone once said that you never really appreciate something until it is gone. That is definitely true in this case.  Although Ted can no longer help us hoe, hand-weed, identify plants, spray plots, mentor graduate students or analyze data, we will try our very best to honor his commitment to the discipline of weed science and U.S. agriculture by continuing our efforts in delivering practical solutions to future problems. It will be difficult without him! 

Ted is survived by his wife, Lisa Marie Darragh Webster; two daughters, Maegan Elisabeth Webster and Mary Ellen Ida Webster; and two sons, Jonathan Theodore Webster and Benjamin Vail Webster.

As always, good weed hunting!

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