Kladivko honored for his work in environmental quality and agricultural sustainability – News & Stories

The annual award recognizes a faculty member from the faculties of Agriculture, Health and Human Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine whose work exemplifies the three pillars of the land-grant mission. Created in 2008, its name honors the late Corinne Alexander, professor of agricultural economics and extension economist.

During a highly productive 40-year career at Purdue, Kladivko conducted research to identify soil management systems that improve environmental quality and promote agricultural sustainability.

“Dr. Kladivko has helped lead two important changes in agriculture: the use of cover crops as a technique to reduce nutrient losses in agricultural fields and soil erosion; and the use of soil health to improve understanding of the management of soil systems,” says Ron Turco, professor and head of the department of agronomy.

“I’ve always been interested in the intersection of agriculture and the environment,” says Kladivko. His research has focused specifically on subsurface drainage and water quality; earthworm interactions, soil management and soil physical properties; conservation tillage and cover crops for soil health improvement; and the preferential flow of chemicals through soils.

Kladivko joined the Faculty of Agronomy in 1982 as an Applied Soil Physicist. “I was very conscious of being the first female faculty member in the department of agronomy,” she recalls. “Everyone was very welcoming, supportive and helpful. Maybe I was going to work harder to prove myself, but I felt like they wanted me to succeed.

Professors Jerry Mannering and Don Griffith immediately invited Kladivko to perform measurements of soil physical properties on plots in two studies of the effectiveness of different tillage systems in growing crops. “I would almost call myself an apprentice for this first season,” she says of their mentorship.

As a new teacher, Kladivko also joined a team leading a drainage project in which she would remain involved in varying degrees for 35 years. Researchers continued to collect water samples and data even as Kladivko launched new projects in the field that required his special attention. But she used a 2003 sabbatical in Iowa to revisit that data, immersing herself in an in-depth analysis that laid the groundwork for a series of popular publications detailing tile drainage as an essential land management practice. agricultural water on poorly drained soil.

While his early work met the needs of the department and expanded his own knowledge, Kladivko also sought a new area of ​​research. “I’ve seen work in Europe and Australia on how earthworms are part of the no-till story and improving soil porosity and water flow” , she explains. “Only one or two people in the United States were looking at no-till earthworms at that time. A few years later I was invited to lecture all over the Midwest.

His research was at the forefront of soil biology. With a greater appreciation of the biological aspects of the soil, including earthworms and other organisms, has come a greater interest in cover crops. “They’re part of improving biology because you feed the organisms more; direct seeding is part of biology because you protect them,” she explains.

During her study in Iowa, Kladivko also noted how using cover crops reduced nitrate levels. Farmers knew cover crops were good for water quality, but now the practice’s impact on soil health was growing.

She has observed – and hopes to have contributed to – changing grower attitudes towards conservation tillage and cover crops. “There has been an evolution, I would say, in the understanding that we have to pay attention to soil biology, cover crops being one aspect of that,” says Kladivko, who has worked on cover crops at three different times. of her career.

She was a founding member of the Midwest Cover Crop Council in 2006 and remains a member of its executive committee. Ask Kladivko why her enthusiasm for regional organization has never wavered, and she immediately brandishes the third edition of her popular field guide.

“I feel like we’re having an impact,” she says. “None of our states have the resources to do all the work they need to do on cover crops on their own. By working together, we can do a better job in both research and extension.

Kladivko’s work, independently and in collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Indiana Conservation Partnership, has helped conservation grow in Indiana as more farmers re-evaluate their management practices for potential impacts on soil health, system resilience, and water quality. Indiana now has one of the largest areas of land using cover crops in the country, with more than one million acres.

Providing pragmatic solutions to growers is a hallmark of Kladivko’s research and is essential to his efforts to create an informed community to improve the long-term sustainability of agriculture. “Research and extension go hand in hand,” she says. “Some research ideas are mine or those of fellow scientists. Then I talk with the farmers, and their questions generate more ideas that I try to design experiments to answer.

“It’s very different from what I thought as a youngster learning the extension – it’s really a lot more back and forth than I thought it would be when I started.”

His research can also be found in his soil physics courses. “I joked with my students that this is probably the only soil physics course in the country where they have a full course on cover crops and most of a course on earthworms” , she says. “It’s not typical. And we’re going deeper into the whole area of ​​soil health, where I do a lot of research now.

Kladivko thinks the best way to understand soils is to work with them. “My lab is not a demonstration of theory; it’s about teaching real methods that they can use very well as practitioners.

Three assets characterize her career at Purdue, she says: good colleagues, a positive work environment and “the freedom to do pretty much what I want, within reason.” In this context, she has influenced thinking about the impact of land practices such as tillage and cover crops on productivity, and promoted soil health to maintain soil productivity for current and future generations. .

A prestigious award, she adds, validates her intention to balance the three missions of the land-grant institution. “I’m not a superstar in any of these assignments,” she says, “but it’s an affirmation that people appreciate what I’ve done.”

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