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

“If We Understand What Chefs Want, We Can Produce It”

VERONA, Wis. — There's a good chance that many of the suddenly trendy vegetables that foodies latch on to in the next decade will benefit from research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While plant breeders at many public universities focus on improving field corn, soybeans and other crops used in food manufacturing or livestock feed, those in Madison want to produce better-tasting vegetables. The university has long had ties to the vegetable processing industry, as Wisconsin is among the top two or three states in producing canned or frozen sweet corn, green beans and peas. But vegetable breeders say the local food movement has created additional opportunities with a boom in organic farms, farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants. The challenge is coming up with varieties consumers like, even if they can't always articulate what makes one ear of corn better than another. "Apples are almost the only fruit or vegetable that when you go to the grocery store, you see 30 different apples all by name," said Bill Tracy, a sweet corn breeder who chairs the university's Department of Agronomy. "We could do ...
September 2, 2014

“So this is comparable not to breaking the door or even just knocking on the door, but to knocking on the door while wearing cologne.”

The mechanical force that a single fungal cell or bacterial colony exerts on a plant cell may seem vanishingly small, but it plays a heavy role in setting up some of the most fundamental symbiotic relationships in biology. In fact, it may not be too much of a stretch to say that plants may have never moved onto land without the ability to respond to the touch of beneficial fungi, according to a new study led by Jean-Michel Ané, a professor of agronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Legumes like soybean plants, pictured in Jean-Michel Ané’s lab, can grow without nitrogen fertilizer when engaged with rhizobia. (Photo: Jean-Michel Ané) “Many people have studied how roots progress through the soil, when fairly strong stimuli are applied to the entire growing root,” says Ané, who just published a review of touch in the interaction between plants and microbes in the journal Current Opinion in Plant Biology. “We are looking at much more localized, tiny stimuli on a single cell that is applied by microbes.” Jean-Michel Ané Specifically, Ané, Dhileepkumar Jayaraman, a postdoctoral researcher in agronomy, and Simon Gilroy, a professor of ...
August 28, 2014

“The corn is probably sweet enough”

On the track of not-so-sweet corn Monday, August 25th, 2014 You might wonder why Bill Tracy bothers to breed new varieties of sweet corn. It’s already unbelievably tender and crisp and supersweet. We just need more of what we’ve got, right? Not really, says Tracy, chair of the UW-Madison agronomy department, who has been breeding sweet corn since the 1980s. There’s a lot of things besides sweetness to worry about. And in fact, sweetness is something a lot of people would like less of. “Modern sweet corn has excellent eating quality, flavorful and tender​. We are always looking to make improvements to eating quality but the corn is probably sweet enough,” says Tracy. “We want to improve disease resistance, weed competitiveness, shelf life, and other traits to make it easier to grow and provide better more consistent quality for the consumers.” “We are also looking at developing non-sweet vegetable corns for culinary uses. Many chefs and cooks feel modern sweet corn is too sweet for many recipes. In 2014, we began new efforts in developing non-sweet vegetable corns. We have gathered heirloom sugary sweet corns that are prized for ...
August 26, 2014

Plant Sciences Symposium Seeking Proposals

(as seen on eCALS) The Plant Sciences Graduate Student Council (PSGSC) is in the midst of planning the annual UW-Madison Plant Sciences Symposium. This fall our symposium will be entitled Plants and Society: Integrating Food and Science in Today’s Culture. The theme of the the integration of multiple disciplines and perspectives in addressing research inquires related to agriculture. This year we are adding four 15-minute presentations to the schedule. PSGSC invites students from departments related to agriculture to join us in creating another great symposium. This is a great opportunity for students to work on professional presentation skills as well as receive recognition from the UW-Madison community, and the larger international audience that the symposium attracts via the live webinar. The symposium will be held on Friday, October 3rd in Union South. We would like to give everyone an opportunity to apply for the chance to be one of our featured speakers in this year’s symposium. Student presenters will be given 15 minutes to talk about their work, followed by 5 minutes for questions. To apply please send a brief abstract (max 300 words) describing the research you would like to present and a current CV to psgsc@rso.wisc.edu. After review ...
August 18, 2014

It’s All in the Genes: Dr. Bill Tracy discusses sweet corn with Lynn Rosetto Kasper

Listen to department chair Bill Tracy discuss sweet corn with Lynn Rossetto Kasper on this week's episode of The Splendid Table: Food keeps getting more complicated. Take sweet corn: It's no longer enough to buy it directly from the farmer or to pick it yourself. You need a degree in agriculture to figure out which kind of sweet corn you want: sugary, sugary enhanced, supersweet, synergistic or augmented.  
August 14, 2014

Agronomy Department Handbook Updated

As of Fall 2014, new credit requirements go into effect for graduate students. These changes are reflected in the updated Agronomy Graduate Student Handbook (link opens PDF). This handbook can be permanently found on its own page in the Program menu. Questions about the changes may be directed to Chris Kucharik, Joanna Schuth, or Jillene Fisch.
August 8, 2014