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Hardin award celebrates Tuinstra’s global research success

“My goal is to educate the next generation of citizens and scientists that are aware of the importance of agriculture and equipped with the abilities to increase food security and safety.” - Mitch Tuinstra

Throughout his career, Agronomy Professor, Mitch Tuinstra, has demonstrated a passion and commitment to global agriculture and food systems. His path within agriculture began with working on his family’s vegetable and flower farm in Shelbyville, Michigan. He attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and received his MS in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and PhD in Agronomy from Purdue University. Originally, Tuinstra was planning to follow the family business and go back to the farm to help with the vegetable and flower production. During his time in graduate school, he became motivated to stay within academia because he was passionate about teaching others. 

“I was fully funded by a research assistantship, but I signed up to be a teaching assistant for a lot of the professors I worked with,” says Tuinstra. “I was a teaching assistant for Horticulture 101, Horticulture 301, Agronomy 511 and 611, because I wanted to learn the best teaching methods and how to become a better teacher to others.”

As a PhD student at Purdue, he was inspired while working with many international peers and with the World Food Prize Laureate (2009) and Distinguished Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics and International Agriculture at Purdue University, Gebisa Ejeta

“Mitch entered the field of Plant Breeding and Genetics with excitement and determination to become a global scientist who would do well and do good. It has been an honor watching Mitch achieve his aspirational goals,” says Gebisa. “He is a passionate and motivated individual that will continue doing great work globally.”

After his PhD, Tuinstra studied sorghum adaptation to drought with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India. This was his first time traveling outside of North America. 

tuinstra-international-fieldwork

“My first trip to South Asia was a real eye-opening experience,” says Tuinstra. “So many people and so many communities are connected with agriculture. It came as a shock that my new friends and colleagues were looking to me for answers to their questions and solutions to their challenges.”

After returning home, he was hired as a faculty member at Kansas State University focusing on sorghum breeding. It was here that he received his first United States Agency for International Development (USAID) grant as part of the International Sorghum and Millet (ISM) Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP). His research focused on developing new sorghum varieties that were drought stress tolerant. In 2007, he was offered a faculty position at Purdue as Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Agronomy, and is now the Wickersham Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Research and Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics. 

“Although farmers have faced the challenges of droughts and heat waves for thousands of years, there is mounting concern that changes in our climate may hamper agricultural productivity in the United States and around the world,” says Tuinstra. “Responding to these concerns with efforts to develop “climate resilient” cultivars of maize and sorghum will help contribute to the adaptation of agriculture to warmer and drier environments.” 

His research at Purdue focuses on identifying genes and genetic resources that contribute to improved crop performance in stressful environments. He has been highly successful in initiating international collaborations with scientists and breeders to improve crop performance in numerous locations throughout North America, Africa and Asia. 

“Mitch has demonstrated excellence in international research and collaboration through his work studying how crop plants grow in stressful environments,” says Gerald Shively, associate dean and director of International Programs in Agriculture (IPIA). “Through these projects, he has established a commitment to global agriculture and food systems, delivering high impact capacity building with food producers and processors as well as government officials and consumers.”

Mitch also mentors numerous undergraduate and graduate students, launching them onto impactful international career paths of their own. He currently teaches one of the most popular undergraduate courses in the College of Agriculture: World Crop Adaptation and Distribution (AGRY285). 

tuinstra-corn-field

“His class exposes students to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the world outside the United States,” says Ronald Turco, Professor and Department Head for the Department of Agronomy. “In class, they explore environmental factors, including climate, climate change, water, soils, and major food crops’ global distribution and use. His objective in the class is to show how human intervention has maintained or modified the productivity of food crops in agricultural communities worldwide, and how this intervention has affected the environment.”

“Working with Professor Tuinstra for the past 6 years in Senegal and in his lab at Purdue University, I have had the privilege of working with a multinational group of scholars from India, Niger, Taiwan, Germany, and the United States all with diverse interests and skills in the discipline of Agronomy,” says Elisabeth Diatta-Holgate, former PhD student within Mitch Tuinstra’s group and current research scientist with CERAAS in Senegal. “Professor Tuinstra has developed a community for us to learn from not just from him but from each other as well. This has allowed me to advance my knowledge and skills in my own area of interest but in other areas as well. He provides both the resources and support needed for his mentees to succeed, which is personally empowering for me as an early-career female scientist.”

The College of Agriculture celebrates this remarkable record of accomplishment and impact by awarding Mitch Tuinstra the 2023 Lowell S. Hardin Award for Excellence in International Agriculture.

On Friday, May 5, 2023, IPIA will host a ceremony and reception in the Dean’s Auditorium, Pfendler Hall Room 241, from 9:30 – 10:30am ET, to honor Tuinstra for his contributions to international agriculture. 

Join the live Zoom here: https://purdue-edu.zoom.us/j/93426072372

 

Photos provided by: Purdue Agricultural Communications/Tom Campbell.

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