Ray Folwell retired May 31, closing out a remarkable 39-year career on the Washington State University faculty.
The Illinois native was hired by WSU’s Agricultural Economics Department in 1968 to do livestock marketing research. He did that and worked on other commodities during his long career, but the first fall he was here, his department chair asked him to attend a meeting in the Yakima Valley concerning the wine grape industry.
In an interview several years ago, Folwell recalled, “He asked me to see whether or not the department should do research to foster the economic development of the industry.”
At the time, there were fewer than 500 acres of wine grapes in the state.
“We listened and decided to start gathering some basic statistics on what was really happening in the wine industry,” Folwell said.
Nationally wine consumption was climbing 14 percent a year at the time and a lot of new products were coming on the market.
“It definitely looked like there was a place for this state to have a wine industry,” Folwell said. “How big was anybody’s guess.”
He examined the economics of establishing and operating vineyards and wineries as well as finding out what was going on with consumers. He and John Baritelle, who was then with the USDA Economics Research Service, conducted a landmark national wine marketing study to examine consumer behavior.
To Folwell’s knowledge, it was the only study of its kind ever done in the public domain.
Through the years Folwell worked closely with horticulturist Walt Clore at Prosser, enologist Chas Nagel in Pullman and other pioneers in building the foundation of the state’s modern $3 billion modern wine industry.
While Ray’s name is probably associated with his achievements in the wine industry, Extension economist Herb Hinman, a colleague of Ray’s for 27 years, recalls another side. “He always was an advocate of undergraduate students in agricultural economics, ag business and the college in general,” Hinman said. “That was his main concern.”
Ray carried a heavy teaching and advising load until moving into administrative ranks near the end of his career and he continued to advise the agribusiness-agricultural economics club even then.
In 2002 he was named Interim Coordinator of the Viticulture and Enology Program and director of the program the following year. In 2004 he relinquished that post when he was named interim Associate Dean and Director and of Academic Programs in CAHNRS. The “interim” disappeared in 2005 and in the following year he added duties as Director of the Viticulture and Enology Program back on his resume.
“We made some significant advances while he was on the job,” said Pete Jacoby, Associate Dean for Outreach for WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and Agriculture Program Director for Washington State University Extension. “He implemented the Agriculture and Food Systems Degree Program and clarified the direction of the Viticulture and Enology Program.”
Folwell published widely and received a numerous honors for his work, most recently the Industry Service Award from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers.