Growing Our Future 2015 Conference

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, the largest academic department across the University of Nebraska system, hosted the Growing Our Future 2015 conference on Nov. 6 at the Cornhusker Marriott in Lincoln, Nebraska. The event provided attendees with a glimpse of the department’s many activities, including breakthrough research and student involvement. After a day of presentations, more than 120 stakeholders along with University of Nebraska–Lincoln administrators, faculty and staff had a better understanding of the amazing breadth and impact of the department.

Ronnie Green, Harlan Vice Chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UNL and vice president of agriculture and natural resources for the Nebraska system, provided opening remarks. He said the agronomy and horticulture department receives 10 percent of the total research dollars at UNL. Increased undergraduate enrollment at UNL has driven the growth in faculty positions. There will be 27 percent more IANR tenure-track faculty positions in food and agriculture by 2016. Following Vice Chancellor Green, Roch Gaussoin, the department head, highlighted departmental accomplishments and activities. The Department of Agronomy and Horticulture is growing along with IANR and becoming a leader in cutting-edge research. In addition to the accomplishments of IANR and the department, Gaussoin described the diversity and scope of the research, teaching, extension and staff components of the department in Lincoln and across the state of Nebraska.

After Gaussoin’s remarks, the day consisted of three 30-minute faculty presentations that represented the spectrum of department-related research, nine fast-break presentations where faculty gave brief overviews of specific topics, two 15-minute faculty presentations and six student club updates. Richard Ferguson, associate department head, served as moderator.

Prior to lunch, Mike Stewart, Central Great Plains regional director for the International Plant Nutrition Institute, presented graduate student Zachary Stewart with the prestigious International Plant Nutrition Institute Scholar Award. Stewart is one of six recipients from the United States and is currently working on his Ph.D. in agronomy under the supervision of Professor Charles Shapiro.

Lunch concluded with a demonstration of an unmanned aerial system used in research by Bill Kreuser, assistant professor and extension turfgrass specialist. At the conclusion of the presentations, 15 graduate student posters were displayed. Students were available to discuss their research and answer questions.

Highlights from the faculty presentations included:

  • Daniel Schachtman, professor and Director of the Center for Biotechnology, shared his exciting research looking at microbes in soil that may help plants grow in Nebraska and in the Sandhills.
  • Harkamal Walia, associate professor and plant molecular physiologist, discussed his research on phenotyping to capture the dynamic nature of salt stress tolerance in rice and wheat.
  • Leah Sandall, assistant professor of practice, highlighted the thriving distance education program and provided a virtual tour of the remodeled Goodding Learning Center.
  • Oscar Rodriguez,research professor, discussed the joint research agreement for popcorn breeding between ConAgra Foods and the University of Nebraska. The objective is to improve the agronomics and production characteristics of commercial popcorn hybrids of ConAgra Foods. Special emphasis is given to quality eating traits such as volume expansion, tenderness and flake shape.
  • Anne Streich, associate professor of practice, announced a 73 percent increase in department undergraduate student enrollment between 2008 and 2015.
  • Roger Elmore, professor and Heuermann Chair and Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute Fellow, stated “Scientists are stewards.” He then asked, “How can we be good stewards?” and discussed his research on implementation of cover crops in Nebraska corn and soybean cropping systems.
  • Brian Krienke, extension assistant educator and Laura Thompson, extension assistant educator, work with Project SENSE, a team-based, on-farm research project to improve nitrogen use efficiency and reduce nitrogen loss to ground water.
  • Keenan Amundsen, assistant professor, discussed his research on developing genetic markers in buffalograss to increase the breeding program and to develop improved native buffalograss cultivars to withstand leaf spot disease and chinch bugs.
  • Charles Shapiro, professor, stated that although Nebraska has great soils, research in foliar analysis in nutrient management for high crop yields helps keep it that way.
  • Dirac Twidwell, assistant professor, talked about using fire to stop the invasion of juniper woodland taking over grasslands and to restore grasslands back to their natural habitat.
  • Stacy Adams, associate professor of practice, shared new research developments of growing hops in different soils of Nebraska.
  • Walt Schacht, professor, discussed research where range nutrient cycling with higher grazing distribution and efficiency increases carrying capacity for cattle grazing.
  • The following student club representatives shared 5-minute presentation highlights of recent club-sponsored activities.
    • Range Management Club – Amanda Hefner, member and applied ecology, natural resource sciences graduate student
    • Turf Club – Jeff Lenihan, vice president and turfgrass & landscape management major
    • Agronomy and Horticulture Graduate Student Association – Leah Ruff, president and plant breeding and genetics graduate student
    • Agronomy Club – Amanda Vodvarka, president and agronomy major, and Brad Meusch, treasurer and agronomy major
    • Pi Alpha Xi -Alpha-Gamma Chapter, National Honor Society for Horticulture – Emily Stine, president and turfgrass & landscape management major
    • Horticulture Club - Kara Sousek, president and horticulture major

Video presentations of the day's speakers are available at

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