New faculty profile: Valentin Picasso Risso studies sustainable forage and grazing systems

Vale 2015 origValentin Picasso Risso joined the faculty in the Department of Agronomy as an assistant professor in August.

Briefly describe your career path—up to this point. 
I am originally from Uruguay, where I got my undergraduate agronomy degree, and my love for forages and doing science for the public good. I did my PhD in sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University, where I learned interdisciplinary research methods applied to diverse perennial cropping systems. After graduation, I went back to Uruguay, where I was a faculty in the University of Uruguay (UDELAR) for seven years, working on forages, livestock grazing systems, agroecology, and adaptation to climate change. Now I am back in the U.S. Midwest, seeking to contribute to the sustainability of forages and grazing systems… for Wisconsin and for the world!

What is the main focus of your research program?
I focus on developing sustainable forage and grazing systems which build resilience to climate change. I apply the science of agroecology to evaluate and design sustainable cropping systems which are productive, minimize environmental impacts and are stable over time. I am particularly interested in responding to the challenge of climate change, both by mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions in livestock systems, as well as by adaptation of farming systems to extreme climatic events like drought or extreme temperatures. I am working on developing operational indices for resilience of systems to climatic crisis, looking at historical data of forage production in the Midwest. I think that one key to resilience of farming systems is increasing the area in perennial forages and crops, which have deep roots, are actively absorbing nutrients and collecting sunlight over a longer growing season. These features make perennials protect the soil from erosion, reduce water contamination with nutrients, and recover easier from extreme climatic events. My research therefore looks at management of perennial dual-purpose crops for forage and grain, including intermediate wheatgrass (Kernza). Finally, my program has an international focus, studying the agro-ecological intensification of grazing systems around the world, with emphasis in Latin America.

What drew you to UW-Madison?
First, UW-Madison is one of the best agronomy schools in the world today. There are lots of colleagues to interact with, and opportunities to develop interdisciplinary projects to solve the most critical problems we are facing today in terms of agricultural sustainability. I think my interests fit very well with the historical academic culture of this university, in terms of freedom, shared governance, and excellence. I am really excited about all I have learned so far in terms of resources to support students and faculty to succeed in improving our world. Second, Madison is a fantastic place to live – not too small, not too big – with lots of activities, restaurants, culture and friendly people. I believe Madison is a great place for giving my family the best quality of life. I really like the U.S. Midwest, and having spent my PhD in Iowa, I am not afraid of winter. In fact, I am looking forward to ice skating on Lake Mendota!

What do you like to do outside of work?
Spend time with my kids, playing or reading. I love traveling to new places, here and abroad. I enjoy biking, canoeing and ice skating.