Jan 27, 2023
Farmer’s innovation guided Dale Marshall’s career

Dale Marshall, who received patents for harvesters and mechanical fruit and vegetable handling equipment as an engineer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has died.

Marshall, who retired in 1998, died on Dec. 8, at his daughter’s home in Williamston, Michigan. He was 88.

Dale Marshall
Courtesy Marshall family

An agricultural engineer, Marshall received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Michigan State University, where he spent most of his career at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service on-campus branch. A longtime member of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, he was with the USDA for more than 30 years.

Over the years, Marshall developed equipment to harvest or handle citrus, grapes, cucumbers, rhubarb, peppers and apples. In many cases, the idea for equipment specific to a crop came from observing harvest or sorting and packing of another fruit or vegetable. Sometimes the alterations were minor.

“That’s how farmers and processors are so innovative,” Marshall said in a March 2016 profile of his career in Vegetable Growers News. “They say ‘let’s just make that a half-inch longer’ or ‘let’s speed that up a bit.’ That’s how they make improvements on their own.”

Marshall grew up on a livestock and row crop farm, and learned from his father the importance of observing equipment in action and adapting them to suit specific needs. He used those lessons throughout his career.

“If we had an idea, we’d try and see if the crop survived our research. People said, ‘Oh, you’re working on crop improvement,’” he said in the 2016 VGN article. “I’d say no, it was more trying to maintain the inherent crop quality, trying to reduce product breakage, abrasion and bruising.”

“Looking for innovative harvesting and handling methods along with university, industry, processors, farmers and students was the key to our success.”

A nearly fatal automobile accident interrupted his career, and the USDA shuttered the vegetable equipment program at MSU, according to the VGN article. He then moved to Georgia to work on evisceration of broiler poultry, retiring 20 months later when that project ended.

Marshall married Patricia Cochran in 1955 and they celebrated their 66th anniversary in April 2021. She preceded him in death in January 2022.

In a letter to Marshall’s family, the ag engineering group, now known as the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, said he was a vital member of the community and his legacy will have a lasting impact on many people’s lives.

“Those of us who were privileged to know and work with Dale on technical and professional committees, research projects, and join him during his many years of service on the Historic Commemoration Committee will always remember his enthusiasm, organizational skills and generosity of with his time and experience,” according to a letter signed by society President Keith Tinsey and Executive Director Darrin Drollinger.

“Indeed, he invested in the lives of others, and we will continue to work to honor his investment in us.”

— VGN staff

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