Elizabeth Little grew up on a farm in the rural Hudson Valley of New York where she developed a keen interest in agriculture. She started with two years of undergraduate studies in animal science before changing to a major in plant pathology at Cornell University. After completion of her degree, she worked for six years in nurseries and had a business installing and maintaining perennial and shrub borders. Little obtained her Ph.D. in Plant Pathology at the University of California at Davis where she specialized in the epidemiology, characterization, detection, and management of vegetable bacterial diseases. She was fortunate to work on a commodity-funded project to research solutions on a newly emerged bacterial disease on celery transplants. Her research in the transplant houses in the Salinas Valley led to a solution that involved an integration of cultural methods to decrease plant susceptibility to infection.
She also established the role of seed in disease outbreaks and optimized hot water seed treatments. This experience influenced her future approach to solving plant disease problems by thinking holistically about pathogen/plant/environmental interactions. Upon completion of her degree, she held a post-doctoral appointment at U.C. Davis working on bacterial canker and replant diseases of Prunus fruit trees including plum, almond, peach and cherry, followed by a second postdoctoral position at UGA working with peanuts.
Following her post-doc, Little took an instructor position in the department of Plant Pathology at UGA. During this time she developed a program on the effects of landscape management decisions on water quality. Her current position is as an associate professor and Extension specialist with a 75% Extension/25% teaching appointment. Her Extension program involves solving plant health problems in home landscapes and gardens, and in organic fruit and vegetable production. She must be prepared to answer questions on almost any type of plant grown in Georgia. All of these systems fall outside of typical agricultural management approaches and recommendations for her clientele are often customized to fit the situation.
Organic production in particular challenges her skills to develop solutions for often unique disease problems. While the organic system will suppress many of the problems seen in conventional systems, other pests and diseases often need more attention. Little’s applied research program has focused on cucurbits and tomato, both crops with multiple disease issues in Georgia. According to Little, “The most rewarding part of my job is when I can make a positive difference in outcomes for the committed grower.”