Fall 2023

UW Turns 175

Black and white image of L. F. Graber talking to a group with a plant in his hand.
L. F. (Laurence Frederick) Graber, an agronomy instructor at UW from 1910 to 1957, was known as "Mr. Alfalfa." Here, he talks to a group about the plant. Historic photos courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives


More than 175 years have passed since the founding of the University of Wisconsin, the state’s first public university. Throughout this time, UW has led the way in everything from groundbreaking research discoveries to defining cultural movements.

The UW–Madison campus is honoring these historic moments as part of a yearlong celebration, which began on July 26, 2023 — 175 years to the day since the university was created. Programming will run through May 2024.

CALS is making its own contributions to the important occasion, and highlights of the college’s rich history will be featured here in the pages of Grow.


Ph.D. student Sadegh Ranjbar prepares a drone for a data collection flight over an alfalfa field at Arlington Agricultural Research Station. Photo by Michael P. King

The UW Agricultural Research Station (ARS) system features a statewide network of outdoor laboratories and classrooms. At these facilities, faculty, staff, and students (and sometimes university partners from farms or industry) conduct research related to the unique agricultural and environmental challenges found in Wisconsin’s distinct regions.

The ARS system, led by CALS, is the product of more than a century of expansion and evolution. The first station was established in Spooner in 1909, and the most recent — the O.J. Noer Turfgrass Research and Education Facility in Verona — was created in 1992. The network includes 11 off-campus stations and the on-campus CALS Greenhouses. Combined, they encompass more than 8,000 acres.

That’s a lot of land. But this acreage is key for developing and testing new crop varieties, a significant activity at many ARS stations. From their earliest days, the stations have hosted a variety of plant breeding programs, producing many notable successes. A major milestone was the release in 1952 of vernal alfalfa, a winter-hardy, disease-resistant, high-yielding crop whose genetic ancestry can now be found in more than 1,000 alfalfa varieties. Other plant breeding triumphs include the Snowden potato, a popular potato chip variety, and the HyRed cranberry, a fast-ripening berry designed for Wisconsin’s short growing season.

Beyond plant breeding, the stations host hundreds of research projects led by agronomists, biological systems engineers, dairy scientists, entomologists, horticulturalists, meat and animal scientists, plant pathologists, soil scientists, and wildlife ecologists. Their overarching goals are to develop profitable, sustainable farming systems and preserve environmental quality. Results and recommendations are shared widely, including through public “field days” held at the stations every summer.


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