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  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Agriculture
  • Crops
  • Entomology
Ashley Leach is a postdoctoral associate at Purdue University working to develop integrated pest management programs. Leach completed her Ph.D. at Cornell AgriTech in 2019 under the guidance of Brian Nault, professor of entomology. During her time at Cornell AgriTech, Leach worked with Nault on developing integrated pest management for thrips, a pest that impacts the health of the New York onion industry. Leach’s research and efforts at Cornell AgriTech have contributed to improved onion crop health and yields.

In what ways did your experience as a graduate student at Cornell AgriTech shape your current career path?

Cornell AgriTech is an excellent place to pursue your graduate degree. I was fortunate to have a diverse community supporting my research including entomologists, plant pathologists, horticulturists, extension educators and growers. Working within this community, I gained a unique perspective of agriculture that benefitted my research and pushed me to challenge my conventions and research objectives.

What knowledge from your graduate student days at Cornell AgriTech have you most utilized in your current role?

I don’t think there is anything I’m not using! My education helped hone my soft skills as well as my research skills. Furthermore, every skill I either gained or honed while at Cornell AgriTech is still in use in my current position as a postdoctoral researcher at Purdue University.


What kinds of research did you do while at Cornell AgriTech, and what do you research now?

I work in pest management and specialize in developing integrated pest management (IPM) programs. The primary goal of my Ph.D. research was to combine basic ecological information and integrated pest management to develop sustainable and effective options for thrips and plant disease control in onion production. I am currently conducting research at Purdue University to develop new ways to manage arthropod pests while mitigating risks to pollinators.

What was the most significant research discovery you made while at Cornell AgriTech?

Agricultural production systems are dynamic and require equally dynamic pest management solutions. Techniques that might work well against one arthropod pest might not effectively reduce other pests in the production systems and may even prove to be counterproductive. In one study, we found that a pest management tactic (planting thrips-resistant onion cultivars) reduced onion thrips densities but was also highly susceptible to bacterial rot pathogens. So even though we were able to help solve one problem (reduce onion thrips densities), we increased the likelihood of another problem (bacterial bulb rot). Thus, this research showcases the dynamic nature of Integrated pest management and cautions the use of any pest management practices as “one-size-fits-all.”

If you could give advice to AgriTech graduate students as they make plans for future careers, what would it be?

Pursue something unexpected. There are so many awesome people working at AgriTech, and they are very supportive of graduate students. Take advantage of their experiences and expertise to build collaborations and develop new (and hopefully crazy) ideas that will not only further your career but also better agriculture.

Header image: Ashley Leach, former graduate student at Cornell AgriTech works in an onion field in Elba, NY with colleagues in the lab of Brian Nault, professor of Entomology. Photo provided 

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