Agroecology is a scientific discipline that integrates ecological and agricultural principles to optimize resource conservation, productivity, societal benefits, and profitability using an ecosystem framework. Agronomy graduate students seeking an M.S. degree (thesis or non-thesis) can enroll in the Agroecology Concentration, either 100% on-line or campus-based. On-campus students seeking a Ph.D. can major in Agronomy with a concentration in Agroecology. Students in the Agroecology Concentration are required to learn beyond the classroom by engaging in hands-on local, regional, national, and international research and study opportunities. Graduates leave the program with broad, scientifically rooted knowledge and skills, enabling them to successfully navigate the complexity of global food system challenges. The Agroecology Concentration requires students to take specific courses designed to increase their interdisciplinary exposure and foundational knowledge of ecological principles. Agronomy faculty across all specializations within the department advise graduate student non-thesis projects or thesis/dissertation research programs which align with student research and career interests. The Agroecology Concentration is an ideal choice for individuals who are already engaged in their careers or other activities yet desire a graduate degree for career advancement. Our graduates are successfully developing rewarding careers in the public and private sectors.
Crop Physiology, Ecology & Management
Crop Physiology, Ecology & Management faculty conduct research to describe how plants function and respond to environmental and biological stress in a changing climate. They evaluate physiological processes at the canopy, whole plant, and cellular level. Studying crop responses to the environment enables researchers to use modeling to better understand how plants respond and adapt to changes in the environment, improve crop management and genetically improve plants to enhance their resiliency. Faculty work alongside their graduate students to design academic programs to fit student research and career interests. From understanding fundamental processes of how water stress impacts plant responses to developing management practices that help plants better adapt to environmental stress, our diverse research faculty provide excellent mentoring and opportunities to students. Most students work on interdisciplinary research projects to address eco-physiological research problems at regional, national and global levels. Our faculty are affiliated with many university-wide Centers/Institutes including the Water Institute, the Center for Stress Resilient Agriculture and the Food System Institute which provide resources and opportunities to students. Our graduates are successfully developing rewarding careers in academia and industry.
Forage Science and Management
With favorable climatic conditions and capacity for growing forages year-round, Florida is one of the main states in cow-calf production in the United States, ranking 10th nationwide in beef cow numbers (900,000). From the sandy southern tip of the peninsula to the more subtropical panhandle, Florida hosts over 1.7 million head of beef cattle, over 125,000 dairy cows, and approximately 500,000 horses in over 3.2 million acres of pastureland and 1.3 million acres of grazed woodland. Besides being home to five out of the 10 largest cow-calf outfits in the country, there are almost 18,500 beef cattle ranchers, producing over 800,000 calves being shipped out west every year. This represents over $1.7 billion annually in revenue from livestock products for the state (USDA NASS 2016), helping to make Florida the 7th state in agricultural exports. The beauty of this: it is mostly produced on strong, forage-based production systems. Recently, forages (re)gained new horizons, with the increased use of cover crops and great potential for integrated livestock-cropping systems. Regained because those practices remount back to the primordium of agriculture. New horizons because the diversification of production systems, increased cost of production, and increased focus on environmental aspects have placed forages on the main stage for sustainable agriculture. Forages are important providers of ecosystem services, being a habitat for wildlife, securing atmospheric carbon in biomass and soil organic matter, regulating nutrient fluxes, and conserving soil and water.
The very productive Forage Breeding program at the University of Florida has released over 47 cultivars in the past several years, not including biofuel and turfgrasses. The Forage Team has been an important ally of Florida’s farmers and ranchers, a partnership and a legacy transcendent beyond generations of faculty and producers.
In Florida, it is possible to grow a myriad of forage species: from tropical C4 grasses to subtropical legumes, going through high productivity, bioenergy-type canes to brassicas for small ruminants. The very productive Forage Breeding program at the University of Florida has released over 47 cultivars in the past several years, not including biofuel and turfgrasses. Those releases range from more reliable bahiagrass and bermudagrass cultivars to nematode-resistant clovers and tetraploid ryegrasses, reducing costs and increasing productivity. Rust-resistant small grains helped producers by reducing the need for supplemental feed and creating a new niche for beef cattle producers: backgrounding stockers in integrated livestock-cropping systems. Hay is also an important crop in Florida, with around 300,000 acres being harvested annually. High-quality rhizoma peanut hay has also gained space among horse owners and small ruminant producers as an alternative to imported alfalfa hay.
Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics
Our Plant Breeding-Genetics and Genomics Faculty conduct basic research on genes and their function in plants and utilize genetic information to develop new and improved varieties of the most important crops that feed, clothe and supply energy to the world’s population. The UF Agronomy faculty have created and released new cultivars of peanut, small grain, sugarcane, forages and turf grass that are used throughout the US and world. Faculty use traditional and modern plant breeding approaches and work alongside their graduate students to design academic programs to fit student research and career interests. From researching the potential of a new sustainable crop for biofuel production, to identifying the genes that confer resistance to a major crop disease, our students are trained in the latest gene editing technologies, genomic selection, and high throughput field-based phenotyping. Students conduct research in one of six Agronomic breeding programs but gain exposure to over 25 UF breeding programs of regional and global importance. Most students work on interdisciplinary research projects to address genomic-based research problems of regional, national and global significance. Our faculty are affiliated with the UF Plant Breeders Working Group and many university-wide Centers/Institutes including the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research, Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, Emerging Pathogens Institute and UF Genetics Institute. Our graduates are successful developing rewarding careers in academia and industry.
The strength of the Genetics program area has been in traditional, applied breeding programs to develop improved cultivars of forages, legumes, sugarcane and small grains. Forage and field crop scientists in the Department have released 28 crop cultivars since 1988. Breeding programs from the Agronomy Department contribute crop cultivars which dominate production acreage in areas of adaptation both within the U.S. and internationally. Recent accomplishments of the program include the release of many important cultivars: e.g., improved peanut (yield, disease resistance and oil quality), small grain (pest resistance) and forage crop (pest resistant clover, rust resistant ryegrass) cultivars. The contribution of these programs to the graduate study of plant breeding has also been a major strength. Molecular biology programs are now making significant contributions to the more traditional forage, peanut, and sugarcane breeding programs. A strong team approach is essential to development of multiple trait cultivars to serve our agricultural industry and to research value-added traits to increase the value of our commodities. It is imperative that an appropriate balance be maintained between whole plant and molecular genetics for both teaching and research programs.
Our Statistical Methods faculty have expertise in experimental design, research methods and data analyses with a focus on plant breeding and genetics, ecology and agriculture sciences. Students will use statistical theory and applied statistics to address research questions pertaining to their area of interest. Students develop statistical learning methods to analyze and predict complex traits by analyzing factors including genetics, environmental factors and their interaction using high dimensional genomic data. Our faculty are affiliated with the UF Genetics Institute, UF Plant Breeders Working Group, and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.
Weed Science, Phycology & Invasive Plant Ecology
Our diverse faculty are leading research programs that address invasive species ecology, weeds that interfere with agricultural production, and invasive plants and algae that threaten aquatic and natural areas. Faculty help their graduate students design academic programs that align with their research and career interests. From creating new methods that control troublesome plants in agriculture, aquatics and natural areas to understanding the dynamics and impacts of species invasions and elucidating the diversity and toxicity of cyanobacteria causing harmful algal blooms, our faculty provide excellent mentoring and opportunities for their students. Most students work on interdisciplinary research projects across different ecosystems to address challenges of regional, national and global significance. Our faculty are affiliated with the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants and the Fort Lauderdale REC Aquatic and wetland plant science lab, which provide resources and opportunities to students. Our graduates are successful developing rewarding careers in academia and industry.
Weed scientists in the Agronomy Department have developed, evaluated and implemented weed management strategies for terrestrial and aquatic weeds in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical environments. Strong interdisciplinary teamwork, both within and across departments, and at regional and national levels, has been a tradition the program. Current strengths of the weed science program include biology, molecular genetics, and physiology of weed species; aquatic and invasive plant research and management; weed management strategies for southeastern cropping systems; weed/crop interference mechanisms; computer decision modeling for soybean and peanut; wetland mitigation; and pasture, rangeland and non-crop weed management systems. Graduate student placement in both industry and academia has also been a traditional strength due to the diversity of the weed science program.