New faculty profile: Damon Smith

Damon Smith is a new assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and UW-Extension field crops pathologist. He joined CALS in September.

Describe your career path—up to this point?
I’m a native of western New York and attended the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Geneseo where I received a B.S. in biology.  I then moved to North Carolina State University (NCSU) where I received my M.S. degree in 2004 and Ph.D. degree in 2007, both in plant pathology. Before joining the University of Wisconsin—Madison, I worked for five years as a horticultural crops extension pathologist at Oklahoma State University (OSU).

At NCSU my research and extension interests were primarily focused on improving the understanding of the biology and epidemiology of Sclerotinia minor of peanut, and using this knowledge to improve peanut disease management strategies.  This research led me to become particularly interested in the development of Sclerotinia blight forecasting systems using on-site and modeled weather data. The Sclerotinia blight advisory enables peanut growers to time fungicide applications more effectively.

In addition to my research in epidemiology of Sclerotinia blight, I also evaluated experimental peanut breeding lines for resistance to Sclerotinia minor.  One of these lines, N96076L, was registered as a Sclerotinia-resistant germplasm line.  I then tested advanced breeding lines that were derived from crosses with N96076L under field conditions, and examined the role of partial resistance in epidemic development.

My research at OSU continued upon the theme of integrated disease management and epidemiology.  I developed a disease-forecasting model for turfgrass systems and developed an internet-accessed disease prediction system for grapes. I also conducted research on pecan where my team evaluated a disease prediction system and developed an improved understanding of disease resistance in commercially available pecan cultivars.

What is the main focus of your research program?
My new position at UW-Madison will address disease concerns of soybeans, field corn, and wheat. I plan to focus my research efforts on developing new methods to manage white mold including the development of improved soybean varieties with resistance to the disease and developing a viable disease forecasting system for white mold.  Other diseases like soybean cyst nematode and sudden death syndrome will also be high priorities for my soybean research program.  Research on field corn and wheat will be focused on sustainably managing important diseases of those commodities.

What drew you to UW-Madison?
I came to UW-Madison because it is a world class university that has the capability of enabling me to grow as an applied agricultural scientist.  I have the freedom to work with whoever I want to drive research into the 21st century and deliver that material to my extension colleagues.  UW-Madison has the resources in place to be a leader in agricultural science, and I want to be a part of that.