Richard Latin was born in Teaneck, NJ, but has always considered Pennsylvania “home”. He attended Waynesburg College (Waynesburg, PA), where he earned a BS degree in biology in 1973. He received both his MS and PhD degrees in plant pathology at the Pennsylvania State University in 1977 and 1980, respectively. After working briefly at the University of Idaho as Visiting Assistant Professor, Latin began his tenure at Purdue University in 1981.
Latin adheres to the fundamental principle that research and extension efforts should be integrated with outcomes that benefit his clientele. Exploratory extension activities provide direction to his research effort by identifying and defining production constraints. The research effort generates field level solutions to disease-related problems, and provides content for his Extension educational programs. The cyclical association between Extension and research has proven successful and effective throughout his career.
Latin’s appointment at Purdue initially centered on developing a research and extension program that addressed disease of vegetable crops. Specific commodities of interest included muskmelon, watermelon, and processing tomatoes. Early in his career, Latin was challenged when the U.S. commercial watermelon industry was threatened by a new bacterial disease. Having expertise in understanding disease etiology and epidemiology, he and his colleagues were able to quickly identify the pathogen (Acidovorax citrulli), its source, and environmental conditions that promoted epidemics. In fact, Latin’s lab was the first to demonstrate contaminated watermelon seed as a source of inoculum, which addressed risks associated with transplant production. The controversial issue involved different and sometimes contentious clientele groups including growers, transplant producers, and seed producers. Latin’s evenhanded, research-based approach during the initial outbreak exemplified the dedication he has shown to grower needs throughout his career. Acidovorax citrulli is one of the most devastating pathogens of watermelon and Latin’s research has forever altered the landscape of the watermelon industry. His research influenced guidelines for seed testing, transplant facility sanitation, and crop management that have been widely adopted throughout the U.S.
Latin has been instrumental in developing tools to aid vegetable growers and turf managers alike. He authored numerous extension publications characterizing contemporary disease issues that assisted clientele in avoiding or mitigating disease-related damage. One notable vegetable publication, Diseases and Pests of Muskmelon and Watermelon (1993, 2001), was the first of its kind compiled with detailed descriptions, including 90 color images, of melon pest issues and served as a primary grower reference for decades. Latin’s research to understand melon disease epidemiology resulted in the development of MELCAST, Melon Disease Forecaster (2001, 2012). The program was developed into a threat assessment platform gathering real-time environmental data to forecast foliar disease outbreaks. MELCAST continues to serve growers in many states as an integral component of disease prediction and fungicide scheduling.
In the early 1990’s, the focus of Latin’s research and extension program transitioned from vegetables to turfgrasses. Latin brought his expertise in epidemiology to the study of diseases affecting amenity grasses. In continuing his quest to better inform his clientele, Latin developed “Turfcast”, the first online informational resource providing daily risk assessments for foliar turfgrass diseases. The user-friendly site gathers real-time temperature and moisture data specified by location to develop a categorical indicator key for diseases caused by Rhizocotonia solani, Sclerotinia homoeocarpa, and Pythium sp. Latin also published “Turfgrass Disease Profiles”, a series of 23 publications addressing diseases that impact turf in the lower Midwest. They include descriptions of disease-related damage, identifying features (with color images), conditions that promote infection, and disease management practices segmented into genetic, biological, cultural and chemical control options. Most recently, Latin and his Purdue turfgrass science colleagues have developed the Purdue Turf Doctor, a mobile app that provides diagnostic and management information for over 135 turfgrass disorders. His experience working with Acidovorax on watermelon was of great value when a new disease, bacterial etiolation and decline (A. avenae), emerged on creeping bentgrass in 2009. The rapid and widespread occurrence of this often-misdiagnosed problem caused considerable controversy within the turfgrass industry and Latin was and continues to be sought after by turfgrass managers for his expertise in distinguishing this disease from other decline syndromes.
It is evident that Latin’s extension efforts have been centered on creating a more informed practitioner through development of user-friendly platforms that accurately guide management of common diseases on vegetables and turfgrass. Latin is widely regarded as the national expert in turfgrass fungicides, due to his extensive knowledge of chemical groups in addition to efforts towards in enhancing application strategies while minimizing resistance development. In 2011, Latin compiled his vast knowledge of fungicide selection in one of the most influential turfgrass textbooks entitled A Practical Guide to Turfgrass Fungicides. The practical nature of book speaks to all practitioners, particularly golf course superintendents who utilize fungicides to maintain high turf quality. The narrative is research-based and information is presented in a way that is easily understood. It promotes a better understanding of the factors that impact fungicide success creating a more informed perspective for enhancing control strategies. The book is listed as an APS Press “Best Seller” and reviews recognize the book as a core resource in the turfgrass industry. It’s practical approach to understanding fungicide action extends to the entire plant pathology community.
Finally, Latin has mentored 14 graduate students, numerous undergraduates and two post docs. He has published 34 research articles that support his extension publications and workshops. In 2001, he received Purdue University’s highest award in Extension, the Sharvelle Distinguished Extension Specialist Award. Latin was recognized by his clientele through awards that include the an Award for Excellence and Dedication from the MidAmerica Food Processors Association in 1997, and an Award of Achievement in 2012 from the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation, among others. In 2018, Latin was recognized with the Col. John Morley Award from the 17,000-member Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. It is the industry’s highest honor, recognizing individuals who have made “outstanding, substantive and enduring contributions to the advancement of the golf course superintendent profession”.