Ag Research Spotlight:
“My motivation is to help people make the world a better place.” –Linda Prokopy, Associate Professor of Natural Resources Planning
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 May 2013 underscores the theme, “Strengthening ecological and environmental integrity in agricultural landscapes.”
Interdisciplinary social scientist Linda Prokopy grew up in England until her father’s work brought the family to the United States and eventually, to Grand Rapids, Michigan. She speculates that her long-held interest in natural resources might date to her early life “playing in nature.” Her undergraduate interest at the University of Michigan initially was in the biophysical side of natural resources management: “But I realized people had more to do with environmental issues – that people are a huge part of the equation,” she says. After completing graduate study at the University of North Carolina, she brought her unusual combination of natural resources and planning degrees to Purdue in August 2003.
Prokopy’s research bridges the biophysical and social sciences. “Broadly my work deals with how we motivate people to make environmentally friendly choices,” she explains. “All of my research is applied and has clear Extension elements.” Three areas in which her research has had impact are the conservation behaviors of farmers; social dimensions of watershed management; and agricultural adaptation to climate change.
AFFINITY FOR FARMERS
Given the extent of land in agricultural use, conducting her research in an agricultural context made sense to Prokopy when she came to Purdue. “How can we insert consideration of the environment into this complex challenge of growing food?” she asks. Along the way, she has developed great respect for farmers, whom she says “have one of the toughest jobs in the world.”
USEFUL TO USABLE
Prokopy is the project director for U2U (Useful to Usable), a USDA-NIFA funded project that is developing decision-support tools to help corn producers in the North Central Region adapt to climate change. “As climate becomes increasingly variable, it becomes even harder for farming to stay resilient and profitable,” she says. “A lot of data already exists that might be useful to people, but it’s not in a usable or available form.” The interdisciplinary effort involves 21 co-project directors at nine institutions.
Prokopy’s publication work “shares with other researchers what we’re working on and makes the research stronger and better,” she says. “A lot of my presentations are to people who can use the results of the work, the practitioners. I want to make a difference: Me sitting in my office is not making a difference.” She also volunteers her expertise on behalf of a local land trust and the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation.