Core research areas in PSM include (1) crop management; (2) ecology and microbial ecology; (3) environmental soil science; (4) plant breeding, genetics, and biotechnology; (5) plant pathology; (6) soil management, and (7) weed science.
Crop management faculty investigate production technologies and cropping systems to increase grower profitability and production, and protect the environment. PSM research advances turfgrass performance used for golf, home lawns, and athletic fields. Collaborations include departments of Entomology, Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, Animal Science, and Biosystems.
Agricultural Engineering and PSM Faculty working in soil science, weed science, plant breeding and genetics and agricultural ecology. Soil quality and management practices that enhance nutrient efficiency, are protective of the environment, and improve product quality in agricultural systems are emphasized. Optimizing nutrient efficiency and product quality through balanced nutrient supply and high quality organic matter inputs are key research areas, along with identifying root system traits to improve plant resistance to stress. The ability to predict nutrient release, carbon sequestration capacity, and soil quality consequences of integrating manure, cover crops and forages is a direct outcome of our research. Additionally, research centers on forage and field crop variety adaptation, planting and harvest management, grazing management and managing spatial and temporal variability in production through precision agricultural techniques. Recent advancements include implementation of biotechnology and molecular techniques to improve turf quality. Athletic field applications focus on technology transfer. The need for applied research in crop management will increase as biotechnology and genomics evolves. Research efforts will focus on discovery and implementation of technological advancements at the farm, homeowner, and municipal level. Public demands for improvements in environmental quality will drive research to improve precision in agricultural and turf systems.
Ecology and Microbial Ecology
Faculty members in this area seek to understand how organisms in agricultural ecosystems interact to provide the services that society depends on, from yield to clean water and greenhouse gas mitigation to soil fertility and disease and pest suppression. This includes plant, soil, microbial, and invertebrate ecology as influenced by agronomic practices that affect productivity and environmental sustainability. The plant microbiome provides a promising research area to understand and manage plant stress imposed by climate change, infertile soils, or pest/pathogen outbreaks. The diverse community of organisms inhabiting the rhizosphere revealed by genomic approaches provides insight into their functional significance. Other research areas include antibiotic resistance ecology in soil and soil- manure systems, the fate and impact of animal and human pharmaceuticals in the environment; using the soil metagenome to advance paradigms of evolution, population structure, horizontal gene exchange, biochemical diversity and capacity; combing new isotopic techniques with new molecular techniques to link microbial community structure with function; and detecting, understanding and mitigating the fate of microbial and viral pathogens in the soil-water ecosystem. System-wide integration is explored in the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program with emphasis on biogeochemistry including soil carbon and nutrient turnover, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus losses to aquatic and atmospheric fates, and climate mitigation; on plant-microbe and plant-insect interactions including rapid evolutionary responses to agronomic management, plant microbiome functions, and pest/pathogen biocontrol; and on ways that agronomic management influences the suite of ecosystem services that row-crop systems and landscapes can provide. The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center likewise provides integration opportunities for cellulosic bioenergy cropping systems. The Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems undergraduate specialization and the Ecological Food and Farming Systems graduate specialization bridge LTER and PSM with the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.
Environmental Soil Science
Faculty in this area work to protect and improve the quality of our soil resources through a fundamental understanding of the basic chemical, physical and biological processes in the soil environment. This knowledge and expertise base will ensure the continued availability of clean and productive soil resources, uncompromised by environmental pollution or mismanagement. Hydrologic science addresses soil water flow and runoff, water quantity and quality, soil-water interfaces, transport and fate of contaminants/ pathogens, and disturbance of aquatic systems. Unsaturated hydrology has been a recent focus. PSM has established a critical mass in soil physics and waterborne pathogens that link PSM with other hydrological expertise across campus. PSM has broad strengths in multi-scale modeling at the molecular scale in biology; the molecular and batch scales in chemistry; the micrometer scale to model spatial colonization behavior of microorganisms in biofilms; the pore- to watershed-scales integrating biology, chemistry, and physics; the field to watershed scale in process-based soil and crop modeling; the field to watershed scale in soil runoff and surface water quality and quantity as it relates to ecology (ecohydrology); the aggregate to field scales on carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling; and the field to global scales in relating agriculture to greenhouse gases and climate change. PSM Faculty collaborate with Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering and Criminal Justice in building the quantitative microbial risk assessment field. Research programs in environmental soil science must be strongly linked to the new Environmental Sciences and Policy Program on (ESPP) campus, which has emerged as a central component of MSU‘s vision for the future.
Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology (PBGB)
The PBGB Faculty integrate traditional plant breeding approaches with emerging technologies and strategies in genomics and biotechnology. They educate the next generation of plant breeders to be well-qualified geneticists with training in statistics, biochemistry, physiology, pathology, molecular genetics, genomics and bioinformatics. The research programs aim to increase agricultural productivity by developing improved plant varieties and advance plant genomics. The genetic basis of photosynthesis productivity and efficiency is under investigation and will lead to advancements in yield potential across crop species. Genes contributing to disease resistance and yield potential are being identified in wild relatives of wheat and exotic soybean germplasm. Advances made by PSM plant breeders are enabled through modern genomics technologies. All breeding programs employ classical marker assisted selection for large-effect genes controlling quality traits like oil composition and resistance to diseases. Since 2010, PSM plant breeders have released 26 new varieties in five major crops including soft white wheat, dry beans, potato, food grade soybeans and yellow flowered alfalfa. Oat cultivars developed by PSM breeders are grown on approximately 80% of Michigan’s certified oat acreage. A dozen sugar beet germplasms have been released with traits previously unavailable to sugar beet growers. Over 85% of the black bean acreage in Michigan is planted with MSU varieties, and MSU varieties dominate production in five other commercial market classes of dry beans.
Plant Pathology Faculty study the biology of pathogens, including plant-pathogen interactions, diseases, and their management. They subscribe to fundamental and applied research, teach graduate students, and provide outreach and extension. Pathogen-oriented research focus areas include mycology, phytobacteriology, and virology. Discipline-oriented research focus areas include biology of microbial pathogens and host-pathogen interactions (molecular biology, genomics, genetics, biochemistry, cell biology), epidemiology (theoretical, modeling, predictive systems) and disease management (chemical, biological, cultural, IPM, pesticide resistance management, host resistance management, conventional and, where possible, organic production), pathogen diagnostics (modern molecular tools and more traditional approaches), biology of soilborne microbial pathogens and diseases (soil microbial ecology, biological control, organic and conventional production, soil health). Commodity-oriented strategic research areas target specific problems that have connections to all of the major plant commodities in Michigan. These include vegetable crops, potatoes, fruit crops, nursery, landscape and ornamentals, field crops, turf, forest and tree pathology. Fundamental studies of the host- parasite interaction in model and non-model systems occur at the whole plant, cellular, biochemical, molecular, and genetic levels of study. The use of genomic technologies increases the understanding of microbial pathogens. Our faculty members identify and develop effective uses of biological and cultural methods to control disease, determine the effects of environment on pathogens and how environmental change may influence new, emerging and future pathogens. Theoretical and applied aspects are used to study the epidemiology and microbial pathogen population dynamics for endemic pathogens and exotic pathogens that may become established in Michigan and/or the region. Methods are developed for efficacious use of pesticides and development strategies for disease control that satisfy current and future regulations.
The soil management group strives to improve knowledge of soil processes and management practices that enhance production, protect the environment and build soil resources. The group is dedicated to outreach and education and engages with the general public and the next generation of soil scientists and land managers. Developing sustainable soil management systems in corn, soybean, small grain and irrigated cropping systems is a priority. PSM Faculty represent diverse soil fertility and management expertise with commitments to biofuels through the GLBRC, turf, and soil fertility for all other crops domestically and internationally. Our interdisciplinary team collaborates with scientists in the USDA, other MSU departments and universities in the region and internationally. We develop the best crop and soil management practices (BMPs) for specific soil and crops. Management practices have been tested to develop state-of-the-art Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) that inform Michigan regulatory guidelines. The soil management group provides a foundation for producers to apply agro-ecological practices that protect the environment and provide essential nutrient utilization and manure management.
The weed science group integrates basic and applied research to develop effective, economical, and environmentally sound weed management strategies in field crops and turf. They anticipate and identify weed management problems, and develop solutions that favorably impact farmers and lawn care professionals. Applied research in weed management enhances sustainably by improving yield and quality in field crops and increasing the aesthetics and performance of turf. The unbiased data collected by the faculty may be the only source of information applicable for Michigan’s diverse cropping systems. Training students to be knowledgeable in weed science, molecular biology, plant biology, and agronomy, is an important mission of the program. The weed science group addresses the fundamentals of weed biology, ecology and physiology and conducts applied research. Understanding weed responses to environmental and agronomic parameters including climate change and herbicides is essential. Weeds are one of the biggest stressors of crop yield. Climatic conditions, production practices, and soil health impact weed development and plant stress. Our faculty study weed dynamics in diverse cropping systems, the effects of weed seed decay, dormancy, seed predation, and population dynamics.