Adebukola Dada’s father, a plant and animal farmer in their home country of Nigeria, holds a degree in crop science. His daughter, however, was determined to become a doctor. Waiting for a transfer opportunity to the school of medicine at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Dada stood by in soil science. By the time she could have switched to medicine, “I was already in love with agriculture,” she says, and was able to apply her knowledge to unravel some of the challenges encountered on her dad’s farm. “If our crops did not do well, I asked my dad why, and he said, ‘that’s up to you to figure out.’ She did, by conducting her final year project using biopesticides and biofertilizers to improve the yield of okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) at the university farm. “What was most interesting to me was increasing phosphorus availability in the soil, because our soils were deficient in phosphorus, thus limiting crop yield,” she says. Dada asked so many questions that her advisor suggested she pursue graduate education to find the answers. She earned a master’s degree at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and intended to find work to help support her family, which by then included two children. Her advisor had other ideas, encouraging Dada to continue her studies of phosphorous in soil through a doctoral program. She began at Ibadan, and in her second year, received a scholarship to study abroad from the Niger-Delta Development Commission, a Nigerian federal agency. The same advisor urged her to contact Purdue. She heard back from Shalamar Armstrong, assistant professor of agronomy. He was not the person Dada had written to, but his research in soil conservation and management intrigued her. With the support of her husband as well as their son, now 8, and daughter, 6, she arrived in summer 2017 to begin work under Armstrong’s guidance.
Dada studies how different cover crops popular in the Midwest — cereal rye, oats/radish mixture and Italian ryegrass — affect phosphorous release and loss from the soil. “Our cover crops are said to be doing more harm than good when it comes to phosphorous, but this statement is too general and misleading because not all species increase losses,” she explains. The long-term goal of her research is to identify cover crops that could lower the amount of phosphorous entering freshwater systems from agricultural fields and inform farmers on when to grow crops to make the most of the nutrients they release, reducing the volume of phosphorus fertilizer growers add to their soil. She hopes to take her knowledge back to Nigeria: “If I know how to reduce phosphorous here, I’ll know how to increase its availability back home.”
Dada’s research earned the agronomy department’s Joe L. White Graduate Student Award in Soil Chemistry and Mineralogy in 2019. As a member of the Agronomy Graduate Student Organization, she also helped to plan AgRACEculture: The Race is Silent, in conjunction with the Office of Multicultural Programs in October 2020. The event addressed strategies to develop racially just practices in agriculture and agronomy.