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Jacobs receives Corinne Alexander Spirit of the Land-Grant Mission Award

Seventeen years ago, nurseries around Indiana were fertilizing seedlings in a very different way. It’s no accident that this began changing shortly after Douglass Jacobs joined Purdue Agriculture’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources in 2001. Jacobs’ research concentrates on the restoration and reforestation of forest trees, especially hardwoods, which are abundant in Indiana.

One of his first projects after coming to Purdue focused on effective nutrient uptake in nursery-grown seedlings trees marked for planting, often into forest ecosystems. Through research, his graduate program and Extension work, Jacobs introduced an exponential nutrient loading fertilizer system to nurseries around the state, which was more efficient and effective than the previous system utilized in nurseries. Instead of fertilizing the plants at a constant rate, Jacobs promoted a plan that matched the growing demand of the plants as they matured. Nurseries throughout the region now use this system. The major success of the project, he said, was using Extension and other university resources to encourage adoption of this technique.

“There are two ways to change practices,” Jacobs said. “You can come in and tell them they’re doing it wrong, give them calculations and then go away. This doesn’t usually work. Instead of doing that, we worked with the USDA Forestry Service and our scientists and secured USDA funding to set up a series of demonstrations and trials to show over time how this alternative approach improves plant quality.”

This is just one example of how Jacobs integrates the land-grant mission — discovery, engagement and learning — into his program. And it is why Jacobs will be awarded the 2018 Corinne Alexander Spirit of the Land-Grant Mission Award on Nov. 30. The annual award, established in 2008, recognizes faculty members in the colleges of ​Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine and Health and Human Sciences working across all three land-grant mission areas. Two years ago, the award was named in honor of Corinne Alexander, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, who died  unexpectedly in 2016. Alexander’s work demonstrated a fierce commitment to the values of land-grant institutions.

“Douglass Jacobs’ outstanding work in integrated research, extension, and education truly represents the spirit of the land-grant mission institutions,” says Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of the Purdue College of Agriculture. “His work is making a difference in the hardwood tree industry in Indiana as well as across the country.”

The award comes with a $10,000 honorarium to support the recipient’s program and field of research. As director of the Tropical Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center, he plans to use the funds to support the center and bring on more graduate students. Involving graduate students in research and Extension helps strengthen his program and the university, Jacobs said, especially if they take part in every stage of the process, from experiment design to implementation. Jacobs credits his strong network of students and staff with the success of revolutionizing nursery practices. They are the ones, he continued, that often help turn a research paper into a utilized method.

“That’s the most satisfying part of my job, seeing our research results used in practice,” Jacobs added.

It’s an honor to receive the award, Jacobs continued, especially since what brought him to Purdue and the College of Agriculture was the commitment to discovery, engagement and learning.

“A big reason I was attracted to Purdue was because they have such a strong tradition of embracing the land-grant mission, of constantly working across those three pillars,” Jacobs said. 

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