Message from Heike Bücking

Annual message for the Plant Science & Technology alumni newsletter

Dear Alumni and Friends,

Welcome to the Spring semester. I am delighted to share with you more exciting news from the Division of Plant Science and Technology (DPST). Our faculty and staff continue to provide learning and leadership opportunities for our students in classrooms, research laboratories, field, and international settings. Our mission is to keep students on track towards graduation, and to provide them with high quality education and the foundation for life-long career success. Recent investments in new teaching spaces enabled us to purchase state-of-the-art laboratory equipment for the Henry Kirklin Plant Sciences Learning Laboratory and will equip a new computer classroom for the students in the Agriculture Systems Technology and Plant Sciences programs. The newly purchased equipment provides our students with more hands-on experiences and easy access to advanced technologies, and better prepares our students for a broad range of future careers. In 2023, 97% of our students started their career within 6 months of graduation.

We continuously adapt our academic programs to optimally prepare our students for the careers of the future. We are currently undergoing a reimagining of our curriculum and continue to develop exciting new degree opportunities for our students. For example, in response to our popular certificate programs in Floral Artistry & Management and Precision Agriculture, we are launching a new Landscape Design certificate and are well on the way to establishing additional undergraduate certificate program. These new programs will provide students with an opportunity to advance their degree and improve their career chances by showcasing their additional expertise to future employers. This future-oriented curriculum development will allow us to establish ambitious goals and to identify the major steps that will help us to achieve our mission: to train our students in emerging technologies and optimally prepare them for their future careers, to discover and disseminate new knowledge that will help us to address current and future challenges in the plant sciences, and to enhance the sustainability of agriculture.

The Division continues to evolve. Four faculty members retired this year (James Schoelz, Craig Roberts, Robert Sharp, and Michelle Warmund) and will continue to serve our Division as emeriti or Chancellor’s Professor. We are sad to lose these accomplished plant scientists and wish them all the best for their well-deserved retirement. On the other hand, we are also very excited to welcome 11 new faculty members to our Division. With Lesleighan Cravens and Katy Hagely, we expand our instructional faculty by two passionate and enthusiastic teachers. Mandy Bish, Ivair Valmorbida, and Andre Froes de Borja Reis strengthen our expertise in field crop pathology and entomology, and soybean agronomy and allow us to improve our extension services for our stakeholders in the state. Robert Myers, director of Mizzou´s Center for Regenerative Agriculture, joined the Division as an extension professor. The goal of the Center is to foster interdisciplinary research on regenerative approaches in agriculture, develop more integrated approaches to regenerative farming and to serve as an informational resource for diverse audiences. Jaime Barros Rios, Marc Libault, and Jasmine Neupane strengthen our teaching and research programs by their expertise in cell wall biochemistry, single-cell genomics, and digital agriculture, and provide undergraduate and graduate students with an opportunity to become engaged in hands-on experiences in these emerging technologies. Feng Lin drives the development of superior soybean varieties that are highly adapted to Southeast Missouri as the new soybean breeder at the Fisher Delta Research, Extension and Education Center. Eric Amezquita Morataya, a new postdoctoral scholar in our Division, applies his expertise in mathematics and data science to develop high-throughput plant phenotyping pipelines. Currently ongoing is the recruitment of faculty members with expertise in forage crops, urban entomology, root biology and data science. All of these new faculty recruits will enable us to provide additional learning experiences for our students.

The last year brought many other highlights for DPST. For example, the world-class researchers in the Division of Plant Science and Technology (DPST) continued to excel in cutting-edge research. The goal of the research and scholarly activity in the Division is to identify solutions to “real-life problems” that threaten the agronomic productivity in Missouri, the U.S., and the world. Our research programs are funded by federal (e.g. National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, US Department of Agriculture) and state funding agencies (e.g. Missouri Department of Agriculture, Missouri Department of Conservation), commodity groups and industry. Research expenditures serve as an important quality indicator for a research program, and in 2023, DPST´s faculty generated $15.8 million in research expenditures. Our extension faculty share their expertise with farmers via field days, webinars, social media, and podcasts and reach millions of readers, and contribute more than $100 million per year to the state’s economy. In addition to the numerous research presentations that we shared with our stakeholders directly, DPST faculty published 283 peer-reviewed journal articles, including articles in highly prestigious journals such as Science and Nature. The impact of DPST´s researchers on the scientific community can also be measured by the number of citations of these journal contributions. In 2023, the research work of DPST´s faculty was cited 30,773 times, an increase of 47.6% compared to 2018. The excellence of our research programs is also illustrated by three faculty members of our Division who are members of the National Academy of Science, eight faculty members who are elected Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, and four Curators´ Distinguished Professors. To learn from these scientists in classrooms, or to get involved in their research programs can be a life-changing experience for undergraduate and graduate students.  Faculty members of the Division were also the leading forces behind the launch of the Digital Agriculture Research and Extension Center (DAREC). DAREC brings together scientists, engineers, extension specialists and students to develop emerging digital technologies and artificial intelligence solutions to transform conventional agriculture into highly efficient and sustainable systems.

I am a proud member of the Division of Plant Science and Technology, and I am looking forward to a successful year 2024.


Heike Bücking