Don Huber interview

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this interview was conducted by a student in my Nutrient Management class in Spring 2008

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Don Huber interview

  1. 1. Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology at Purdue UniversityPh.D., Michigan State University, Plant Pathology
  2. 2.  How long have you been a research scientist and if applicable what are some other agriculture related jobs you have held in your career? Fifty one years. Plant Pathologist, International agriculture consultant on cultural and biological disease control (new lands development and cultivation), civil defense response to nuclear attack, agricultural bioterrorism consultant, biological warfare specialist (COLONEL (Retired) US Army).
  3. 3.  Did you grow up on a farm? Grew up on dairy, grain, cotton, and citrus farms. College was stimulated by a Union Pacific Railroad scholarship ($50.00 = two semesters tuition to supplement my digging graves for room and board). The need for a job-additional income for books, etc. landed me in the Plant Pathology department at the University of Idaho and my desire for graduate school and research was fostered from the interactions there.
  4. 4.  Do you feel like you spend enough time on farms observing real problems (and interacting with farmers) to do research that is well grounded in practicality? Definitely worked at problem solving. My first question as an undergraduate research project was to understand how crop sequence/rotation affected soilborne diseases (this question carried me through the next 50 years of research in one form or another- nutrient availability, form of nitrogen, microbial ecology, biological control, nutrient-disease glyphosate interactions, etc.).
  5. 5.  What are the professional responsibilities of your current job?I am now retired (Sept. 2006) from Purdue, but very active consulting in the US, involved in international projects on four continents, and still have about 400 research field plots developing basipetally translocated micronutrients (and Ca, Mg) for disease control as well as to improve crop quality and storability (potatoes, etc.).
  6. 6.  Areyou optimistic about the capacity for world agriculture to produce enough food/fiber/fuel in upcoming decades while reducing environmental impacts? Noproblem if the politicians will keep out of it!!!!
  7. 7.  How serious are the current environmental impacts of agriculture in the US? The glyphosate non-target effects are very serious from a nutritional standpoint and the intensity is growing. This will have to be addressed soon and alternative approaches for weed control to minimize this toxic (biologically) chemicals impact will need to be developed. Although environmental stewardship is always appropriate, we also need to recognize the tremendous progress that has been made in the last few decades. A strong economy and growing population have permitted us to do many things not otherwise possible because of the ability to spread the burden of some environmental programs across more people to pick up the tab.
  8. 8.  How has soil fertility research (e.g., funding, objectives, technology) changed during your career? Dramatically! The virtual loss of the land grant formula funding has channeled most of the resource money into political mandates rather than having the problem solving research done on a dispersed basis by numerous researchers who could address the unique aspects of their environment and share a broad spectrum of ideas. New tools and techniques are especially powerful (XANES, XRD, etc. in my area of nutrient-disease interactions).
  9. 9.  What current research related to soil fertility (other than your own) do you think is most interesting or most promising? Micronutrient efficiency, over-all nutrient efficiency approaches, genetic improvement of nutritional quality (Fe, Zn, protein, Cu, etc.).
  10. 10.  Doyou think current environmental regulations have an adequate scientific base? No! Especially nitrate in water!
  11. 11.  How did you become interested in glyphosate effects on micronutrient nutrition? Observing the continual increase in soilborne diseases (take-all, Corynespora root rot, potato scab, Fusarium diseases) that we had established a strong relationship with for certain micronutrients and the change in environmental criteria that we used to consider "cardinal" conditions for disease severity (head scab). Glyphosate is a strong metal chelator and biocide in the soil from root exudates. Residual effects on micronutrient availability, uptake and translocation are now becoming well documented.
  12. 12.  On what percentage of RR soybean acreage do you think it would be cost effective apply additional micronutrients? About 30 % of the current acreage; in five years it will be about 55 %. Also for corn with an increasing acreage of RR corn needing more K also.
  13. 13.  Are there any good general rules about when additional micronutrient management is likely to be cost effective for RR soybeans? Soybeans, unlike corn, has a fairly wide window (20 days) for micronutrient remediation after glyphosate without irreversible yield loss, but overall requirement for most RR crops is from 10 to 50% higher because of compromised nutrient efficiency by the presence of the glyphosate- resistant gene. The glyphosate impact is in addition to this.
  14. 14.  How much evaluation of agrichemical effects on crop health and nutrition is currently done prior to product release? It is pretty good in some areas (residual chemical, TDN, protein) and missing in others (micronutrient content, etc.). RR crops are deregulated without any significant evaluation of overall impact of the glyphosate WITH the RR gene so environmental biocidal (Mn reducing organisms, nodulation, N- fixation, natural biological disease control organisms, pathogens, etc.) and micronutrient quality effects have been ignored.
  15. 15.  Doyou think any other herbicides or crop protection chemicals in major use today have significant side effects on crop nutrition and/or health? Sure, butthere arent any other chemicals in the history of agriculture that have been as abused!
  16. 16.  Doyou think nutrient management has a significant role to play in combating soybean rust? Yes as part of the over-all management. We generally discounted the benefits of the Mn, Zn, or Cu in fungicides as micronutrients because we focused on disease control and thought primarily of the pathogen without full consideration of impact of those chemicals on plant resistance.

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