URBANA, Ill. – A new field crop plant pathologist will be joining the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois this fall. Nathan Kleczewski will be working directly with growers to diagnose and mitigate the impact of major crop diseases across Illinois. Although he won’t officially start until November, Kleczewski plans to attend this year’s Agronomy Day – yet another reason to make the trip to the U of I campus on August 17.
“Applied research and extension in field crop pathology have tremendous value for growers and for our college. Nathan will lead an innovative program that will add to our efforts in providing independent research in plant protection for Illinois growers,” said Germán Bollero, department head for crop sciences.
In an interview last week, Kleczewski discussed his background and his plans for the new position.
ACES Marketing and Communications: Tell us a little about your background.
Kleczewski: I grew up in Wisconsin and spent most of my career in the Midwest before moving out east. My undergraduate degree is from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in ecology and plant biology, and I earned my doctorate in plant pathology at The Ohio State University. I spent some time as a postdoc at Indiana University and Purdue; worked in the fungicide/nematicide group at FMC Corporation; and, in 2013, started as an extension field crop pathologist at the University of Delaware.
ACES: Why Illinois?
Kleczewski: Being close to relatives is huge for me. Being back in the Midwest, it’s what I’m familiar with. I just feel more comfortable here. There is more space and privacy, and it is a great place to raise a family.
I’m excited to be a part of Illinois, a big state with a lot of field crops and many opportunities to do good field crop pathology. It’s pretty exciting to be working in this state that has roughly 10 million acres of soybeans!
ACES: Do you have specific projects in mind yet?
Kleczewski: I’ll continue some of the work I’ve been doing in Delaware, working on fusarium head blight in wheat through the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. As far as other crops, some of my initial projects may involve soybean cyst nematode, fungicide sensitivity, endophytes, and the impact of cover crops on field crop diseases. There is a great group of pathologists in the region as well, and I hope to work collaboratively on some projects that not only will benefit growers in Illinois, but the region and country as a whole. Because my program is based on grower needs, I’ll need to meet with people this fall and winter, talk to them, and get a handle on what the major issues or concerns are in this area so I can plan accordingly.
ACES: What impact do you hope to have?
Kleczewski: My main goal is to increase overall grower productivity by addressing disease related issues. When push comes to shove, I work for the growers. I want to make sure their needs are being met and they’re ultimately being successful or becoming more successful than they already are. I will help track and monitor emerging or reemerging diseases in the region and develop management programs to address these issues, if warranted. I’m also going to be involved in outreach and will set up a variety of new ways for growers and the agricultural community to access current field crop disease information. I’m big into websites, internet, apps, as well as the more traditional printed materials. I actually love public speaking, so I look forward to delivering talks to growers and industry professionals throughout the state.
ACES: What else should we know about you?
Kleczewski: This dates me a little bit, but both my wife and I are huge Seinfeld fans. Also, I’m pretty active, so I like to play sports and go to concerts. Some people may not like this, but I grew up in Wisconsin, so I’m a Packers fan, but not one of those foam cheese head-wearing types.