As a child, Judit Barroso grew up in Madrid, Spain, but spent her summers in a small town surrounded by farms on the rolling Spanish countryside.
It was there in Mandayona, along the Río Dulce east of Madrid, that Barroso became interested in agriculture. Her job now is to help Eastern Oregon farmers manage invasive weeds.
Barroso, 41, came to the United States in 2010 and moved to Pendleton in October 2014. She works for Oregon State University as an assistant professor and weed scientist at the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center on Tubbs Ranch Road between Pendleton and Adams.
Part of Barroso’s research includes rotating spring crops such as barley or canola to break up weed cycles among winter wheat, the area’s signature dryland crop.
“It’s trying to make this agronomic system more sustainable in the long term,” Barroso said.
Much like Pendleton, the climate in Madrid is hot and dry in the summer, with temperatures reaching triple digits. Barroso remembers wheat, barley and sunflowers grown around Mandayona, the town where she and her sister would visit their grandmother.
“All my friends in that village came from farmers,” she said.
Barroso later earned her doctorate in weed ecology from the Polytechnic University of Madrid. She was always interested in biology, and took an interest in weed management while working with professor César Fernández-Quintanilla of the Spanish National Research Council.
“Weeds compete for the same resources as crops,” Barroso said. “Every plant needs sunlight, nutrients, space and water. If the weeds take those resources from the crop, you’ll have less yield.”
The biggest invaders in Eastern Oregon go by names like cheat grass, feral rye, tumble mustard and prickly lettuce. Barroso knows these weeds better by their scientific names, but has quickly mastered the regional lingo.
Before she arrived in the Beaver State, Barroso came to the U.S. on a Fulbright Scholarship as a post-doctorate research associate at Montana State University. When it came time to return to Spain, the country’s economy fell into a second recession and research jobs became scarce.
Barroso’s supervisor at MSU invited her to stay, which she accepted.
“I was happy in Montana. I said, ‘Bueno,’” she said.
After another two years, Barroso decided she was ready to move on in her career. At CBARC, she felt ready to take on a promotion and lead the station’s weed research program, replacing longtime weed scientist Dan Ball who retired in 2013.
Finally in August, she was joined by her husband, Javier, and their two young daughters. Javier and the girls had remained behind in Montana while he continued working toward his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MSU.
Barroso said the family is excited to make new friends and enjoy everything Pendleton has to offer. The Pendleton Round-Up was especially exciting in September, she said.
“In Montana we’ve been to rodeos, but nothing like here,” she said. “I haven’t seen so many horses in my life.”
An important part of Barroso’s job is reaching out to local farmers and sharing the results from her experiments. Barroso, who speaks in a thick Spanish accent, sometimes worries she is difficult for locals to understand. She wants people to know she is approachable, and doesn’t mind repeating herself.
“Sometimes I can’t realize if someone is not understanding me,” Barroso said. “Hopefully in Pendleton, my English skills will grow much faster.”
So far, she said everyone has been polite and friendly. Pendleton is a smaller city than Barroso is used to living — Madrid has more than 3 million people — but she has warmed up to the community.
“It just takes time to make new friends,” Barroso said. “As long as we can find friendly people, we’ll be OK. And it’s happening.”
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0825.