Feeding 9 Billion People and Creating a Healthier, More Resilient Agriculture.

That is the challenge taken up by the faculty, staff and students of the Department of Agronomy.  We generate and apply knowledge about plants that feed and benefit humankind.  We find and implement answers to problems and opportunities concerning efficiency and sustainability of crop production and in safe and environmentally-sound ways. We generate knowledge on the genetics, biochemistry and physiology of plants. We study the interactions among cropping systems, climate, and the environment. We work to ensure that agricultural systems and products in Wisconsin and the world are able to meet rapidly-changing needs and those of future generations.

  • Planting corn plots

Mob Grazing, the New Old Craze

MADISON, Wis. — Mob Grazing is a “new” grazing technique that has been slowly sweeping Wisconsin and the upper-Midwest for the last decade. This technique attempts to simulate historical grazing patterns conducted by native herbivores with a range of domesticated livestock. While Mob Grazing is similar to rotational grazing, producers who implement this practice typically graze forage that is taller and more mature, with more animals per unit area, faster paddock moves, and a longer regrowth period after grazing events. Graziers use this new technique for a variety of reasons including weed control, even distribution of manure, pasture resilience, decreased animal selectivity and even to improve soil health. While there may be benefits, there are also concerns about potential negative impacts. “In Their Own Words” is a video series created by the University of Wisconsin-Extension that takes a closer look at what mob grazing really is and how it’s being used on the landscape. Farmers featured in the video have utilized mob grazing in some form as part of their pasture- and herd-management strategy, and are excited to share their successes as well ...
March 31, 2015
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“Those numbers aren’t as big as they could be”: Climate Change affects Soybean Farmers Even In Good Years

MADISON, Wis. — Even during good years, our nation’s soybean farmers are, in essence, taking a loss. That’s because changes in weather patterns have been eating into their profits and taking quite a bite: $11 billion over the past 20 years. This massive loss has been hidden, in effect, by the impressive annual growth seen in soybean yields thanks to other factors. But that growth could have been much greater—30% higher—if weather variations resulting from climate change had not occurred, says a study published last month in Nature Plants. “We are still making yield gains because of breeding and other strategies, but those numbers aren’t as big as they could be,” says lead author Shawn Conley, a University of Wisconsin-Madison agronomy professor and UW-Extension soybean and wheat specialist. In the study, researchers isolated the impacts of changing temperature and precipitation on soybean yields in a much more precise way than previously done. While earlier approaches relied on estimates, Conley’s team used data gathered from their own field trials, giving them access to reliable and consistent information about the genetics of the soybeans being ...
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“We would all go up to Minnesota and we would bite the ears… and we would decide which one we liked the best.”

[caption id="attachment_1180" align="aligncenter" width="559"] Photo by John Hart, State Journal[/caption] Back in colonial times, before the advent of hybrid seeds that ensured every ear of corn in a given variety looked exactly alike and could be harvested and husked by machine, people gathered to do the work by hand. They’d have husking bees, divvying up the harvested ears into piles and racing to see who could get through theirs the fastest, sometimes to find a bottle of whiskey buried at the bottom. And — because the varieties of corn were variable — those lucky enough to find the occasional red ear got to kiss the person of their choosing. UW-Madison Agronomy professor Bill Tracy recalled that tradition while meeting over beers at the Library Bar with some of the graduate students involved in helping him create a new variety of sweet corn — a non-hybrid with ears that don’t all look the same, as most farmers and gardeners these days have come to expect. “People are going to be really surprised about this,” Tracy remembers them saying. “Hybrid corn is incredibly uniform. Every plant’s the ...
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Adam Gaspar named Future Leader in Science

Adam Gaspar, a graduate student in agronomy, was recognized recently as a 2015 Future Leader in Science. The award is from the Agronomy Society of America (ASA), the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). Adam is one of 18 students to receive the award for their interest and engagement in science advocacy. He will receive a trip to Washington D.C. to participate in the annual ASA, CSSA and SSSA Congressional Visits Day where he will meet with members of Congress and advocate for agricultural and environmental research. Adam conducts research to answer applied soybean management questions that help producers increase their yields, profitability and sustainability. His advisor is Shawn Conley, associate professor of agronomy. Adam will graduate in May of 2017 with a Ph.D. in agronomy and a specialization in crop production and management. ASA, CSSA and SSSA are scientific societies based in Madison, WI, helping their 10,000+ members advance the disciplines and practices of agronomy, crop, soil sciences and related disciplines.   (As seen on: http://ecals.cals.wisc.edu/2015/03/06/adam-gaspar-recognized-as-a-future-leader-in-science/)
March 10, 2015
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“It’s Simply The Gift That Keeps on Giving”

Professor Joe Lauer speaks out on crop rotation in the latest issue of The Furrow: "The age-old practice of rotating crops, which for a while was considered unnecessary, is returning to today's agriculture with proven benefits."
March 2, 2015
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Switchgrass Trials Show Promise For Alternative Biofuels

   The switchgrass nitrogen fertility trial at Kellogg Biological Research Center in Hickory Corners, MI (left), and GLBRC researcher Laura Smith collecting switchgrass tissue samples at Chiwaukee Prairie in Kenosha City, WI (right). Photos by Laura and Matt Smith. By now most of us are accustomed to filling our cars with fuels that are part ethanol, and we know that corn is not only in our tortillas but also in our gas tanks. Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) researchers, however, are moving beyond corn and other first-generation biofuel feedstocks in an attempt to fill our tanks with environmentally sustainable biofuels. Randy Jackson, GLBRC’s sustainability research group co-leader, says “the focus of agricultural biofuel research has changed recently from ‘agronomic intensification’ to ‘ecological intensification.’ In other words, it’s not just about how much money you can make growing a crop anymore…it’s about how we can grow what we need and nurture the land at the same time.” “One way to move towards a system of ecological intensification,” Jackson continues, “is to move from fields of corn, which need to be planted annually and require lots of ...
February 24, 2015
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