Ag Research Spotlight:
“Extension directly feeds my research and teaching programs – they're all interconnected..” –Aaron Patton
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 2013 underscores the theme, “Facilitating informed decision making to improve economic and social well-being.”
In Aaron Patton’s first job as “cart boy” at a golf course in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, he observed the course superintendent. “I became more and more curious about what he did for a living,” he recalls – so much so that Patton job-shadowed him during high school and decided to pursue the same profession. He earned a golf scholarship to Iowa State University, where he majored in horticulture with a concentration in turfgrass management. A stint as a teaching assistant got him thinking about graduate school, and then-turfgrass Extension specialist Zac Reicher recruited him to Purdue. After completing master’s and doctoral degrees under Reicher’s supervision, Patton joined the faculty at the University of Arkansas, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to come back to Purdue in 15 or 20 years” Just four years later, Reicher joined the faculty at the University of Nebraska and called Patton about the opening. “Now I’m trying to fill his shoes,” Patton says.
Patton’s primary responsibility – to develop and deliver educational programs to the turfgrass industry of Indiana and the Midwest – requires that he conduct applied research and contribute to a high-quality undergraduate program. “I love anything having to do with turf, so my research interests are fairly broad,” he says. His work falls into three main areas: weed biology and control the influence of turf management practices on soil carbon; and the evaluation of zoysiagrass germplasm, where he is working to select zoysiagrass varieties for Indiana’s climate.
FOCUS ON EXTENSION
Research feeds Patton’s work in Extension, where he spends most of his time. Indiana’s professional turfgrass industry, estimated to generate more than $1.4 billion annually, includes 350 golf courses; 600 professional lawn care businesses; 30-plus sod producers; university, high school, and municipal athletic fields; grounds managers of business and industrial complexes, schools, parks, cemeteries and hospitals; and industry salespeople and distributors. Patton’s eight major outreach programs provide turf managers and homeowners with research-based information. “Extension keeps you on your toes,” he says.
MIDWEST REGIONAL TURF FOUNDATION
As executive director of the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation, Patton works with a group of stakeholders whose mission is to support turfgrass research and education at Purdue. Patton also has administrative responsibility for the 22-acre William H. Daniel Turfgrass Research and Diagnostic Center, which 4,000 people use annually through programs by academic departments, intercollegiate athletics and industry.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
“I’ve always enjoyed the idea of trying to solve a mystery by going through the scientific process, to find the answer to a problem that someone is having,” Patton says. “Being a ‘plant detective’ energizes me.” He also enjoys time with his family, which includes three sons ages 8, 5 and 2, and a newborn daughter, and in church activities. And yes, he still manages to squeeze in an occasional round of golf, usually for industry fundraisers.