Breaking Ground with Leo Lombardini

Leonardo Lombardini Professor and Head, Department of Horticulture

Dear horticulture enthusiasts,  

We are thrilled to welcome you to the inaugural edition of The Leaflet, the official newsletter of the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia. Whether you are a long-time follower of our programs or a new subscriber, we are excited to embark on this journey of discovery, learning and engagement together. We aim to bring you updates on our programs, insightful articles and valuable resources delivered right to your inbox. Our mission is to create a platform where we can create a better way to connect with our current and former students, collaborators, industry partners and anyone who is passionate about horticulture and wants to be more engaged with our programs.  

First, I want to welcome all our newcomers to UGA and to the horticulture department as well as welcome back all our returning faculty, staff and students.  

In the past academic year, we graduated a total of 29 students (16 B.S., 6 M.S., 7 Ph.D.). Graduation is always a bittersweet moment – we are sad to see our students leave, but it gives us immense joy to see how much they have matured during the time they have been with us and how ready they are to make an impact in the horticultural world.  

One of the upsides of working in academia is that our mission is never completed – we want to see our students graduate and we cannot wait to welcome new students every year. This fall semester, our new and returning students add up to a total of 66 undergraduate majors and 58 minors. The size of our graduate program has reached an all-time high, with a total of 53 graduate students (a 12.8% increase from last academic year), 28 in our M.S. program and 25 in our Ph.D. program, across our three different campuses. I want to applaud our faculty for actively recruiting (and providing funding for) all these talented graduate students.   

Since the beginning of 2023, we have welcomed four new faculty members to our department: Dr. Sarah Lowder, viticulture Extension specialist (Athens Campus), Dr. Andrew Ogden, controlled environment agriculture breeder (Griffin Campus), and Dr. Luan Pereira de Oliveira, integrated precision agriculture Extension specialist (Tifton Campus). One more faculty member, Dr. Amol Nankar, will join us on Nov. 1 as our new vegetable breeder. He and his family are in the process of moving to Tifton all the way from Bulgaria. 

We have also welcome back Dr. Dr. Jongyun Kim, who is conducting his sabbatical year in our department, Dr. Kim received his Ph.D. in our department in 2011, working under Dr. Marc van Iersel, and is now a professor in the College of Life Sciences and Biotechnology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea.  

Sadly, last spring, Dr. van Iersel, who was one of our beloved faculty members, lost his battle against cancer. Dr. van Iersel joined the horticulture department at UGA in 1995. He was a horticulturist who pioneered intelligent systems that changed the way food and ornamental plants are grown. He published over 150 scientific papers with global influence and was invited to lecture about his research around the world, including Italy, Spain, Taiwan, Kenya, Canada, China, Chile, and Brazil. He was the Vincent J. Dooley Professor of Horticulture and oversaw the UGA Horticulture Physiology Laboratory focused on photosynthesis and light use efficiency research. He also worked on applied research in controlled agriculture environments. 

On Sept. 1, I celebrated my fourth anniversary as head of the Department of Horticulture at UGA, and I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that 28 years ago I left Italy, my home country, with the only certainty of pursuing a Ph.D. in horticulture at Michigan State University. Undoubtedly, I never imagined I would one day lead one of the most prestigious horticulture programs in the country, at one of the best universities in the world. These four years started off with the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts, but we managed to emerge strong and 11 new faculty members have joined our department (we will have spotlight articles about all of them in the upcoming issues of The Leaflet). Unfortunately, during the same period, a few faculty long-serving members retired (Drs. Paul Thomas, Tim Smalley, Scott NeSmith, George Boyhan, Jim Affolter, David Berle), while a few more left us to join other institutions.  

If you want to learn more about our department, of course you can always check the Horticulture Department website or stop by to see us at one of our three campuses.

In the meantime, thank you for your interest in the Horticulture program at UGA and for joining us on this exciting newsletter venture. We are eager to hear your thoughts, suggestions and feedback as we work to shape an informative and enjoyable newsletter experience for you. Stay tuned for our upcoming editions (there will be three each year, at the beginning of the fall, spring, and summer semesters) and do not hesitate to share this newsletter with friends and colleagues who share your passion for UGA horticulture. 

Here's to a journey of discovery and growth! Go HortDawgs!