Agronomy and Range Science

Jun 14, 2013 Debra Cheung


To understand and improve field crop production and vegetation management in natural resource systems, enhance and promote the sustainable use of resources, improve crop yield and quality while minimizing environmental impacts, and interject science into debates on important public policy issues.


The total FTE units allocated during 1998-99 was 27.05, divided into 5.22 I & R, 13.33 AES, and 8.50 CE. By 2006, four individuals will have reached 65 and another seven will be between 61 and 65 years old.

Major Programmatic Thrusts of the Department (current)

  • Quantitative analysis of agricultural crops and rangeland systems (geographic information systems, precision agriculture, crop simulation and modeling): decision-support systems for cotton and rice, simulation of crop water demand for irrigation.
  • Genetics, genomics, biotechnology and breeding of food and forage legumes, cereals, and cotton: two large NSF-funded genomics project on cotton and wheat; breeding programs for California field crops; crop evolution.
  • Agroecology, forage utilization and grazing ecology: two multidisciplinary, cross-departmental projects on cropping systems (Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems, Long-Term Research on Agricultural Systems); host-microbe molecular signaling.

Major Programmatic Thrusts of the Department (5-10 years)

These major thrusts will remain but changes in focus will take place within and between these areas. For example, in the genomics area, increased importance will be given to molecular, physiological and expression analyses of genes (functional genomics) and their application to crop improvement. Joint involvement of the three programmatic thrusts will lead to heightened efforts in plant biodiversity conservation and restoration ecology. The rhizosphere biology program is becoming an additional thrust of the department. The rangeland program will be broadened into a natural systems component.

Program Impact/Ranking

The department is the only addressing field crops and rangeland systems in California and in Mediterranean environments in the U.S. As such, its impact has been mainly in California and internationally in areas with similar climates. Faculty excellence in research has been recognized by election as fellows of their respective professional societies and the AAAS and individual awards.

Extramural Grants and Gifts

Total extramural direct cost expenditures amounted to $ 4,385,135 in 1998-99. This represented $ 162,112 per FTE. Over the last six years this has represented an average annual increase of 8 percent in expenditures per FTE. Typical sources have included federal agencies (NSF, USDA-NRI, NASA, EPA), state agencies (DWR, DPR), commodity boards, private foundations and individuals.

Teaching Programs of the Department

The department is the home department for the undergraduate agricultural systems and the environment major. The ASE major enrolls some 50-80 new students each year. Graduates easily find a job in their area upon or before graduation. In addition, department faculty also participate as instructors in biotechnology, crop science and management, plant biology and biological sciences. Academic Senate and CE faculty are active contributors to graduate teaching in several graduate groups (group chairs, course instructors), principally ecology, genetics, horticulture and agronomy, international agricultural development, and plant biology. We expect:

  1. A more defined focus for our undergraduate programs in relation to other majors on campus and at other California institutions of higher learning.

  2. A stronger emphasis on technology driven majors or areas such as biotechnology and information technology applied to agriculture.

Outreach/Extension Roles

The department has perhaps one of the strongest extension programs in the college and individuals have been recognized for their work. It also recently received an endowment for its work on forages. We expect additional emphasis to be placed on the agriculture/urban interface. Increased integration will be sought with farm advisors.

Potential for Collaborative Links to Other Units to Develop Clusters of Excellence

The department is becoming a nucleus for crop genomics in the college and it is taking the leadership to further develop this area in collaboration with other departments. Several faculty are active in the rhizosphere biology and will contribute to this program area. Faculty active in ecology and computer applications to agriculture can make significant contributions to joint projects with other units.

Positions Needed to Improve Research, Teaching and Extension Goals

  1. Functional genomics: to complement existing strengths in structural and comparative genomics and cell biology and take advantage of resources from model systems (rice).
  2. Reproductive development biologist: to improve seed production and utilize hybrid vigor to increase yield through utilization of genomics.
  3. CE range ecologist: to determine the effects of proper-, over-, and non-grazing for the purpose of integrating grazing prescriptions into weed management, fire hazard reduction, habitat management and grassland restoration programs.
  4. Population geneticist: to deal with the utilization of crop genetic resources or management of endangered wild plant species.
  5. Rhizosphere biologist: to provide an understanding at the molecular level of rhizosphere processes affecting the dynamics of microbial populations and increased efficiency in resource acquisition by the plant.
  6. Cropping systems agronomist: to deal with changing conditions of Central Valley agriculture, such as increasing water use efficiency.
  7. Restoration ecologist: to apply agronomic principles of vegetation management to restore habitats and reduce the impact of exotic weeds.


The positions above are listed in the order of priorities as currently envisioned. Under a no-growth hypothesis, two individuals active in functional genomics (genomics initiative) would replace the retiring physiologists. A CE range ecologist will further strengthen the re-emerging natural (range) resources program. The population geneticist position will provide a crucial link between the genomics, quantitative agronomy, and ecology areas of the department (environment initiative). Assuming a growth of one FTE, one of positions 5-7 will be chosen if and when the occasion arises.

Projected Resource Needs and Strategies for Achieving

The majority of the department is expected to occupy the new Plant and Environmental Sciences building together with the soils section of LAWR in January 2002. This will greatly improve our physical laboratory facility. Remaining issues include 1) identifying up-to-date space (laboratory) facilities for the geneticists/genomics group, currently slated to remain in Hunt Hall; and 2) improvements to the agronomy field facility in terms of buildings and equipment, which are woefully outdated.

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