New faculty profile: Marta Kohmann specializes in forage systems agroecology

Marta Kohmann joined the UW–Madison faculty in January 2023 as an assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy and an extension specialist in the Division of Extension.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town in Southern Brazil, called Carazinho (named after a fish that swims through the streams of the region).

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
My background is in forage management, with a focus on ecosystem services. I worked with legume inclusion in grass-based systems to increase sustainability, quantifying nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas measurements, forage nutritive value, and production. I also worked with prescribed fire management in rangelands and greenhouse gas measurements from ruminant animals.

How did you get into your field of research?
I really like system-level research, and forages are in the unique position of fitting into various different types of systems. Forages are used to feed dairy and beef cattle, as cover crops, to protect riparian zones, improve soil health, among many other uses. Considering the interfaces between soil-forage-animal-atmosphere, there are numerous opportunities to understand how forages can contribute to the sustainability of agriculture.

What are the main goals of your current research and outreach programs?
I am interested in providing practical knowledge to producers, and also acknowledging everything they do for us. We are so fortunate to live in a place where we have access to good quality food, and on top of that producers also participate in conservation efforts, help us increase soil health, maintain diversity of species, provide jobs, etc.

What was your first visit to campus like?
My first visit to campus was during my job interview, and it was a lot of fun! It snowed a little bit, which for me (coming from Florida) was really nice.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
I hope they can experience the wonder it is to learn, not only from instructors, but from one another.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Absolutely! I understand first-hand the transformational power of education, having had so many people in my life who encouraged my curiosity and professional training. I really trust science as a source of practical knowledge, and hope to play my part in it.

The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally?
I learned the importance of communication! There is so much we can do, even at a distance, to build community. I do prefer to see people in person, so I do take the opportunity when possible – but if that is not possible, I love to talk over the phone too.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
Did you know that suppressing fire can reduce sustainability of some ecosystems? At my previous position, I worked with prescribed fire management in rangelands of Florida. These agroecosystems evolved with the natural occurrence of fire, which happened in those regions due to frequent thunderstorms and large quantities of biomass. Maintaining these ecosystems unburned really decreases diversity of plant and animal species, while prescribed burning help maintain it. Fire is often perceived as something destructive, but in those agroecosystems it was a great ally of sustainability!

What are your hobbies and other interests?
I love going out for a cup of coffee, and baking. Maybe these are still related to my pandemic experience- not being able to go out for a cup of coffee with friends was really hard, and one of the things I did to occupy my time was learning to bake!