Ag Research Spotlight:
“The land-grant mission is still alive here. It’s a different world than when it was dreamed up, and it can be a challenge to keep it going. But that spirit is still here.” –Christian Krupke, Professor of Entomology
The Ag Research Spotlight shines each month on an individual whose work reflects our commitment to the six strategic themes that guide Agricultural Research at Purdue. Our spotlight for December 2015 underscores the theme, “Facilitating informed decision making to improve economic and social well-being.”
A worried neighbor once phoned Christian Krupke’s mother to report that her young son lay facedown on the ground, unmoving. But the boy wasn’t hurt; perhaps foreshadowing a career in entomology, he was watching an anthill, enthralled. Krupke grew up near Toronto and studied marine biology at the University of Guelph. Based on his electives in entomology, he determined that insects were just as interesting and offered better employment prospects than marine invertebrates. Krupke found work in pest management with carrot and onion farmers – and discovered he enjoyed the interaction. “That was a big turning point for me,” he says. His master’s work at Simon Fraser University focused on pest management in apple orchards. After earning a Ph.D. at Washington State University, Krupke applied for a position in field crops at Purdue. He knew little about field crops and even less about the university, which he initially believed was an Ivy League school on the East Coast. But he was confident he could figure out the important questions to ask and how to answer them. He joined the faculty in February 2005 and credits his colleagues with helping him navigate the steep learning curve.
Krupke’s research program focuses on the sustainable management of key pests of corn and soybeans. “Given the high stakes when we’re planting these crops on so many acres every year, I want to keep an open mind and see where our research can make the most impact,” he explains. “That guides my research questions. I look at the way we’re trying to manage pests and ask what we could do differently. What could we do better?”
HONEY BEE HEALTH
Krupke also studies the possible effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on honey bees and other pollinators. This work is particularly important to Indiana farmers because corn and soybeans are the two largest uses of this class of pesticides nationwide, he says. Some Purdue studies conclude that the pest insects these insecticides target don't actually cause economic levels of damage. Krupke’s research seeks to present this information with data that show the non-monetary cost of using neonicotinoid seed treatments so farmers can make informed decisions.
EXTENSION AND RESEARCH
Krupke balances field research with sophisticated lab techniques that quantify insect movement and measure insecticide residues in soil and flowers. Farmers tell him if he’s on the right track, he says. “All of my Extension talks are based on research from my lab group,” he says. “When you’re speaking, it’s very apparent when you’re hitting the mark with farmers. It’s one of the best parts of this job.” Farmers give him their ideas, observations, and offers of field sites at Extension events.
CONTINUUM OF KNOWLEDGE
Krupke hopes other scientists with different skills will build on his findings, and teaches his graduate students the value of disseminating original research. “I tell them, ‘If you don’t publish it, nobody knows it happened,’” he says. ‘You must publish this work so another person doesn’t have to repeat it.’” In his spare time, Krupke enjoys camping with his children, ages 10 and 12, and restoring old motorcycles and cars from the ’60s and ’70s, including a green VW bus.