CALS launches new Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences

The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW–Madison is pleased to announce the formation of the new Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences, effective July 1.

The new department will address humanity’s grand agricultural challenges through research, education, extension and outreach programs that range from investigating the inner workings of plants to assessing plants’ relationships with landscapes and climate. The scholarly interests of the department include the disciplines of agronomy, horticulture, ecology, agroecology, plant breeding and plant genetics, crop science, weed science and production agriculture as they relate to agronomic and horticultural systems. A wide variety of plant species and cropping systems will be studied, exploring their diversity of uses that contribute to ecosystem, community and individual health and well-being.

The new department’s 32-member faculty consists of faculty members formerly in the Departments of Agronomy and Horticulture. The Horticulture and Moore Hall-Agronomy Building, which has served as the physical home for the departments since 1932, will continue to house the faculty in the new department. The Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences will administer the existing undergraduate majors as well as the master’s and PhD programs in agronomy and horticulture. 

In spring of 2020, a committee of faculty and staff from the two departments co-chaired by Natalia de Leon (agronomy) and Jeff Endelman (horticulture) formed to explore the possibility of a departmental merger. Following visioning sessions and additional discussions with then-Dean Kate VandenBosch, department chairs Patrick Krysan (horticulture) and Chris Kucharik (agronomy) led the formation of merger working groups, town hall meetings and written proposals for a new department in fall of 2021.

At an organizational level, the administrative staff for the agronomy and horticulture departments were consolidated into a single unit in August 2022. The combined administrative group is led by Tricia Check, who oversees general operations, human resources, financial management and student services.

While several peer land-grant universities in the U.S. have previously combined their horticulture and agronomy departments, UW–Madison’s merger is unique in that it also incorporates agroecosystem science — a significant strength at UW–Madison — into the resulting unit

“We were driven by the idea of creating something bold, unique and visionary for the 21st century,” says Professor Patrick Krysan, who will serve as the first chair of the new department. “By combining and better leveraging our strengths, we look forward to expanding our efforts to address society’s grand challenges.”

In May 2022, both departments voted to proceed with an intent to become one unit, and in November of 2022, both departments voted in favor of creating a new Department of Plant and Agroecosystem Sciences. The CALS APC approved the proposal in December of 2022 and the University Academic Planning Council approved the proposal in February of 2023.