Everett Donald Markwardt, M.S. ’51, a leader in reforms that modernized agricultural outreach and support across the Northeast, has died at the age of 100.
A professor emeritus of agricultural engineering in what is now the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering (BEE), Markwardt died Dec. 11, 2021, in Montour Falls, New York.
Markwardt’s early research focused on mechanizing the harvesting of fruits and vegetables, including apples, cherries, grapes, cabbage and lettuce. He invented several harvesting machines that carefully shook trees to make fruit drop, then collected fruit on corrugated slats underneath to minimize bruising. Markwardt’s inventions were hugely impactful for fruit growers, said Ronald B. Furry ’53, professor emeritus of BEE.
“It took about four seconds to harvest cherries mechanically, a great saving in time and labor,” Furry said. “Within a few years [of his invention], 95% of cherries were mechanically harvested.”
One of Markwardt’s most significant contributions was his successful effort to reform and modernize agricultural outreach and extension. When he was hired, extension faculty in BEE performed direct service through farm visits. Markwardt proposed having Ithaca-based faculty specialize in certain disciplines and focus on producing educational materials, which could be shared with county-based cooperative extension staff and farmers.
To lead this effort, Markwardt was named extension project leader, a position he held for more than 27 years until his retirement, making him the longest-serving project leader in the history of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Furry said.
Markwardt was born Sept. 5, 1921, in Bisbee, North Dakota, and grew up on a farm where his family raised livestock and grew durum wheat. In a 2013 interview, Markwardt recalled the difficulties of farming in an area with frequent droughts, wind storms and hail. The experience made him keenly interested in soil conservation, and he began studying the topic in high school. He attended North Dakota Agricultural College (now the University of North Dakota) to study agricultural engineering, and graduated in 1943.
From 1943-46, Markwardt served as group armament officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a second lieutenant, stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where bomber and fighter aircrews received final combat training before their overseas deployments during World War II.
After the war, Markwardt was hired as a district agricultural engineer in BEE. His primary responsibilities included providing outreach support to farmers, especially with irrigation systems and agricultural machinery. After earning his master’s from Cornell in 1951, he was appointed assistant professor. He spent the next 30 years supporting farmers and modernizing extension outreach support before retiring in 1981.
Markwardt also led efforts to streamline, centralize and support cooperation between agricultural extension services throughout the Northeast. In his 2013 interview, Markwardt said this was the work of which he was most proud. In the late 1970s, he proposed the plan to create a Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service (NRAES) to support regional cooperation, avoid duplication of effort, reduce costs, and centralize publication and distribution of research findings.
NRAES, which was renamed the Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service, connected researchers at land-grant universities across the Northeast.
“NRAES became a major source of engineering educational materials for the member states, while requiring minimal staff and facilities to produce them,” Furry said. “Eight universities are members of the cooperative effort – a real tribute to Markwardt’s vison.”
Markwardt was nationally recognized for his contributions to agricultural extension. He received four blue ribbon awards from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, and a special citation from the New York State Association of County Agricultural Agents.
Markwardt is survived by his wife of 72 years, Velma, along with three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.