From India to MSU – researcher has dedicated his life to agriculture

Maninderpal Singh, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, is studying current and emerging issues in cropping systems to help Michigan farmers improve farm profitability, sustainability and climate resiliency.

Maninderpal Singh

Agriculture and science have always played important roles in Maninderpal Singh’s life. Growing up on a family farm in a small village in northern India, he watched his father test new crop varieties, implement new management techniques and introduce technologies that often resulted in higher yields and income for the family farm.

Those experiences, along with a cost-effective college option offered by state universities in India, led Singh to earn an undergraduate degree in agriculture with honors from Guru Nanak Dev University.

“During that time, I involved myself in extending the university research to the farmers of my village, and conveying their problems back to the university scientists,” Singh said. “My further studies and career followed this foundation of research and Extension in agriculture.”

Now, at MSU, Singh continues to share his research with farmers, studying current and emerging issues in cropping systems to help Michigan farmers improve farm profitability, sustainability and climate resiliency.

His work focuses on management practices involving precision planting, planting time and density, hybrid and variety selection, crop rotation and plant-pathogen interactions in corn-, soybean- and wheat-based cropping systems.

“Information generated by my research program is delivered to growers in Michigan and elsewhere through various outreach activities such as Extension meetings, field days, fact sheets, bulletins and webinars,” Singh said. “The best part of my job is the opportunity to work with amazing colleagues at MSU, as well as cooperator farmers throughout Michigan. I love driving to our off-campus field trials and wish I had more time to do that.”

Q&A: Maninderpal Singh

Title: Assistant professor of cropping systems agronomy, MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences

Joined MSU: 2016

Education: B.S. (Honors) in agriculture, Guru Nanak Dev University, India, 2004; M.S. in agronomy, Punjab Agricultural University, India, 2006; Ph.D. in agronomy, University of Florida, 2011.

Hometown: Tibba, Punjab, India

Family: Wife, Parimender Kaur, and 2-year old daughter, Amreen Kaur.

How would you explain your job to a 10-year-old: I conduct research on ways to increase food production while minimizing any negative impacts on the environment. My overall goal is to help farmers increase their profits and deliver high-quality food to consumers.

A major research breakthrough I’d like to see in the next decade: I don’t think there is a silver bullet to address various production issues faced by our cropping systems. The devil is in the details and I prefer the approach conveyed by MSU football coach Mark Dantonio’s quote about “finding the inches.” I believe an improved understanding of mechanisms by which crop plants respond to their environment, including to living and nonliving stresses, would help to optimize management strategies and improve productivity and sustainability of cropping systems.

If I weren’t a researcher, I’d be: I am really not sure! I have been interested in using science for the betterment of agriculture and farmers from my childhood, so I assume I would still be working in the field of agriculture in some capacity (for example, as an Extension educator).

Words of advice to a young scientist: Being a relatively young scientist, I might not be the best person to give advice, but I will say this – there is no shortcut to becoming a good and successful researcher. So please spend time learning basic principles in your field of research and developing a good network of collaborators early in your career. Foundations laid out early in your career go a long way in becoming a successful researcher.

Something many people don’t know about me: I was afraid of traveling and stayed within 100 miles from home until my M.S. degree. My plan was to stay close to home for the rest of my life, but then I decided to attend a school – the University of Florida – almost 9,000 miles away from my home for my Ph.D. Now I enjoy traveling – only by road, though.

Influential or inspiring person: I don’t think I can name a single person, as I have learned from many people throughout my life. My mother’s experiences taught me to be resilient and never give up in life, my father got me interested in agriculture and my brother’s experiences taught me not to be afraid of living away from home. Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug and my mentors taught me the importance of science in agriculture, and my wife and daughter remind me of the importance of family life for a successful career. I have been very fortunate to have all of these people and experiences in my life.

On my bucket list: I would like to travel across Europe with my family, especially with my daughter when she is a little older and can remember the experience.

On a Saturday afternoon, you’ll likely find me: I used to be in front of the TV watching college football games – especially my alma mater, the Florida Gators and, of course, the MSU Spartans. But now you will find me playing with my daughter or working in the backyard.

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