Job Announcement: Director for the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences

Applications are invited for the position of Founding Director of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. Moving through final approval stages, the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences will be a national and international leader for improving human well-being and quality of life through learning, discovery and engagement in plant and environmental sciences. The School’s faculty will integrate fundamental discovery as well as applied science to enhance plant and soil health, protect water resources and quality, improve food security, design intelligent human landscapes, and promote environmental stewardship. The School will integrate three outstanding departments that share certain mission elements: Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Horticulture, and Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science. These units already share cross-cutting interdisciplinary research, and will be further connected through undergraduate curricula and linked graduate programs, as well as through statewide research, Extension and Outreach activities. The School will initially consist of 86 affiliated faculty, 64 staff, and over 100 graduate students, and will have over $8 M in annual research expenditures. The School will provide an unparalleled opportunity for interdisciplinary research in the food, energy, water nexus as part of a new University focus on Global Systems Science.

The director will provide leadership for the design and implementation of the curricula, infrastructure, and new hires for the School. The responsibilities of the Director will be to provide strategic leadership and vision for the School, effectively oversee administrative, fiscal and human resource matters, advocate with external stakeholders, and pursue development opportunities. In addition to those core responsibilities, the Director will actively conduct impactful scholarship within the School’s mission. The individual will be hired at full Professor rank, with the expectation of tenure.

Applicants must apply online (, use posting # TR0170012).  When applying for this position, please include in the online application a Curriculum vitae, a cover letter summarizing leadership philosophy and vision for the position, along with the names of three references who may be contacted. Inquiries concerning the position or application process should be directed to Dr. Glenda Gillaspy (  Applications received by March 15, 2017, will receive full consideration, but applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

Horticulture Position Announcement: Hahn Garden Director and Instructor

The Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech seeks applications for the position of Garden Director and Instructional faculty (administrative/professional faculty, 12-month, non-tenure-track). The responsibilities of the position are twofold: instructor in the Landscape Horticulture and Design major and Director of the Hahn Horticulture Garden. These complementary responsibilities consist of the following:

Garden Director: Lead the Hahn Horticulture Garden (HHG) – a 6-acre teaching and display garden on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. As part of a major land-grant university, the garden’s mission encompasses teaching, outreach, and research, with an emphasis on enhancing the Horticulture undergraduate curriculum by serving as a living laboratory for students in several courses. The HHG outreach mission focuses on youth and adults in the community and regularly partners with Virginia Cooperative Extension and associated organizations. The HHG generates operating revenue via facility rentals, a membership program, special events, and gifts. The director will supervise three staff members, student workers and interns, plus a dedicated group of community volunteers. The director will plan and oversee implementation of all design/redesign projects within the Garden, in collaboration with garden horticulturists. The director will oversee garden programs and outreach to the public. Effective communication skills and a dedication to customer service and collaboration with other faculty, staff, units, administrators, and stakeholders are required. The HHG Director will work with the CALS Office of Development in developing and implementing a fund-raising strategy targeting individual and corporate gifts to build the HHG endowment.

Teaching: Develop and teach courses for the Horticulture-based landscape design curriculum (2-3 courses per year) Courses can be based on instructor’s interest/experience but should include components such as basics of sustainable design including graphics, site assessment, planting design, and hardscape construction. Additional course content will address issues and identify solutions in regards to storm water management, green infrastructure, invasive plants, and biodiversity. Courses ideally will utilize the HHG to some extent for hands-on student projects. The instructor will assist with student advising including leadership of the NALP student team (National Association of Landscape Professionals) and will solicit input and support from green industry professionals.

As we transition from a Horticulture Dept. to a School model, the position will report to the Director, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, CALS.

The job announcement can be found here:

Ron Morse was recognized for a lifetime achievement in improving soil and water quality

Photo of Dan Luebben (Carl Luebben’s son), Ron Morse with his award, and Eric Bendfeldt. Photo by Barbara Bowen.

Ron Morse, an Emeritus Associate Professor of the Horticulture Department at Virginia Tech, was awarded the 2016 Carl Luebben Soil Health and Water Quality Award which recognizes a lifetime achievement in improving soil health and water quality in Virginia. This award was presented to him at the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, hosted by Virginia Cooperative Extension and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Services. He was nominated by the 2015 awardee, Mark Schonbeck, who said “Dr. Morse has, through a combination of research, education, extension, and community outreach endeavors, made a very substantial contribution to soil health in vegetable production across the US.”

Morse’s focus on sustainable agriculture and conservation began in 1979, when he received an appeal for help from an Extension agent in mountainous Carroll County, with a photo showing a major highway blocked by soil washed onto the road from a cabbage field under conventional tillage.  Ron’s answer was, “Stop plowing.”

Beginning in 1980, when “no-till” was practiced mainly on a limited number of corn/soybean acres in the Midwest, Morse began researching, developing, demonstrating, teaching, and promoting no-till practices on vegetable crops. His successful demonstrations of cover crop-based no-till for pumpkins, squash, broccoli and other crucifers, tomato, potato, and other vegetables has led to adoption of these systems by both organic and conventional producers.

Ron Morse emphasizes that the use of high biomass cover crops in no-till systems is as equally fundamental as the elimination of tillage itself. He has developed Conservation Agriculture systems for both organic and conventional vegetable production that contribute to soil health and water quality in several ways. Key elements of these systems include:

  • No-till for conventional crops and reduced-till for organic crops, including the development and refinement of no-till equipment. These practices minimize soil disturbance and reduce erosion and leaching.
  • Permanent controlled-traffic raised beds to minimize compaction and improve soil health.
  • Farmscaping with native flowering plants to provide food and habitat for natural enemies of insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides and increasing biodiversity.
  • High biomass cover crops integrated into diverse crop rotations to reduce nitrogen fertilizer application, increase soil organic matter, reduce nutrient leaching, and provide a surface mulch that conserves soil moisture and suppresses weeds.
  • Fertigation with soluble organic and conventional fertilizers to match crop nutrient uptake and reduce leaching.
Photo of farmscaping system on Kentland Farm. Photo by Alex Hessler.

Ron Morse taught courses in vegetable crop production and plant nutrition while a professor in the Horticulture Department. Though he retired from the department in 2003, he remained active in research until 2015. In 2009, he served as an advisor for the development of the six-acre Dining Services Farm as a site for hands-on education for students in the Civic Agriculture and Food Systems minor (USDA-Higher Education Grant 2009-38411-19770).  The Dining Services Farm now hosts the Sustainable Agriculture Practicum, an experiential course in sustainable vegetable production in the Horticulture Department.  In 2015, The Dining Services Farm provided nearly 50,000 pounds of produce to dining centers on Virginia Tech’s campus.  Farm manager and Horticulture instructor Alex Hessler worked closely with Dr. Morse for several years.  “Ron’s tireless passion for refining no-till equipment and practices continues to inspire the next generation of farmers and agricultural researchers,” says Hessler.

Ron is currently in the process of writing a manual synthesizing the Conservation Agriculture system that he has developed.

Congratulations to Ron Morse, 2016 awardee of the Carl Luebben Soil Health and Water Quality Award.

Bingyu Zhao receives the NSF CAREER Award

Bingyu Zhao has received a $1 million, five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for his research on host-plant resistance to control plant disease. This recognition is NSF’s most pretigious award for creative junior faculty who are considered to be future leaders in their academic fields.

Dr. Zhao has identified a disease resistance gene in corn called Rxo1. This gene can recognize a bacterial protein (AvrRxo1) and stop the bacteria frominvading the plant cells, preventing infection. Not only can the Rxo1 gene protect corn plants from disease, it still functions when it is transferred to tobacco plants, which are very different taxonomically to corn. This is exciting because genes typically loose their functionality when they are transferred to different plant families. Dr. Zhao hopes to discover why Rxo1 has this ability and show breeders how to transfer the disease resistance gene from corn to other economic crops. (graphic)

Plant diseases that the Rxo1 gene can defend against include rice bacterial leaf streak, sorghum leaf streak, tomato bacterial leaf spot, and watermelon fruit blotch diseases. This is because all of the bacterial pathogens of these diseases carry the bacterial protein AvrRxo1.

This grant also provides training for undergraduate and graduate students and supports workshops at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, VA to attract minority high-school students to careers in plant biology.