MS/PhD Field of Soil & Crop Sciences

Developing sustainable agricultural systems for a growing population

Graduate study in Cornell's Integrative School of Plant Science is organized into five Graduate Fields providing unparalleled opportunities to connect disciplines, creatively solve problems, and integrate complex systems, preparing graduates for diverse careers and futures as leaders in science and society.

Students in the Field of Soil & Crop Sciences work on projects ranging from advancing management practices for sustainable field crop production, soil biogeochemistry in relation to climate change and environmental concerns, geospatial land processes, and molecular genomic aspects of crop plants and soil microbes. Many faculty members research international agricultural and environmental issues in tropical and subtropical regions. Most faculty advisors in the Field of Soil & Crop Sciences are affiliated with the Section of Soil & Crop Sciences in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

Graduate Field Concentrations

The MS/PhD Graduate Field of Soil & Crop Sciences offers four concentrations:

  • Agronomy
  • Soil Science
  • Field Crop Science
  • Environmental Information Systems
women standing beside tall corn plants

Learn more about our graduate concentrations

Development of improved management practices with an integrated consideration of field crops and soils. Cropping systems and farming systems that sustain or enhance the soil resource base are investigated. Economic, sociological and environmental impacts of various field crops and cropping systems also may be evaluated.

Weed Science

Integrated weed management involving ways that biotic and abiotic factors affect weed population and community dynamics, and seed dormancy. Weed control recommendations, herbicide residues and resistant biotypes.

Seed Science

Examination of the factors and mechanisms which regulate seed dormancy, long-term storage and germination for seeds and other systems of plant propagation.

Integrative Crop and Soil Management

Evaluation of environmental, biotic, and management interactions that influence the growth, development, yield, and quality of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Management of forages for maximum economic returns and minimum soil erosion and nitrate losses with environmentally safe management practices.


Field experiments to develop methods for measuring and improving forage quality, production, and animal performance; best management practices for corn, soybeans, and wheat.

Biofuels Production

Examination of agronomic and economic sustainability of grass as a bioenergy source.

Crop Physiology and Molecular Biology

Mechanisms by which drought and other environmental stresses and climate change factors arrest sink-organ development (especially kernels and other storage organs), affect flowering and reproductive organ development, alter phytohormone levels and modify the expression of gene products involved in environmental responses. Mechanisms used to detoxify heavy metals; genes involved in synthesis, transport and regulation of interacting pathways.

Precision Agriculture

Nutrient management using spatial information and field-based analytical instruments for use in precision agriculture.

The Soil Science Concentration focuses on the processes and properties of the soil environment. It emphasizes improving the suitability of soil for crop growth while preserving its value as a natural resource by using ecologically sound approaches.

Soil Science, Soil Biology and Microbial Ecology

Effects of agricultural management practices on soil ecology and soil microbial processes. Particular research topics include: the development of soil health diagnostics; the impact of soil microbial diversity and community composition on agroecological function; and the use of environmental genomics to identify and characterize novel microorganisms in soils.

Soil and Water Management

Managing water quality and quantity in rural communities; comparing private and public options.

Analytical Soil Chemistry

Predictive tests for trace elements in soils; trace element uptake by grasses and forage legumes treated with sludge; biogeochemical behavior of cadmium and zinc in natural landscapes and soils

Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management

Assessment of nitrogen and phosphorus cycle processes in agricultural soils with respect to enhancing plant nutrient uptake. Specific research topics include: improve fertilizer N recovery by crops; the functions and dynamics of soil organic matter; appropriate practices for management of soil organic matter; on-farm nutrient management and improving profitability and competitiveness of New York farms while protecting the environment.

Soil Biogeochemistry

Analysis of nutrient and carbon turnover in soils with regard to fluxes within soils and across ecosystem boundaries to aquatic ecosystems. Research topics include: carbon sequestration in the context of climate change and black carbon dynamics; using synchrotron-based NEXAFS and FTIR for the micro- and nano-scale observation of biogeochemical cycles in soils.

Soil Physics/Environmental Biophysics

Development of soil physical tests to determine soil quality; examination of natural porous media; transport theories; the effect of microorganisms (in particular, bacteria and protozoa) on the transport properties of soils and aquifer materials; the exchange of cations on clays and soils; the interplay between exchange and transport of electrolytes in natural porous media; and the influence of exchangeable cations on the interaction forces between soil colloids.

The concentration offers interdisciplinary study in geospatial environmental information systems to advance our understanding of biophysical processes and the sustainable development and management of Earth resources.

Contact us

Alicia Caswell
Graduate Field Coordinator
231 Emerson Hall
Phone: 607-255-3267
Email: amd33 [at]

Olena Vatamaniuk
Director of Graduate Studies
608 Bradfield Hall
Phone: 607-255-8049
Email: okv2 [at]

What's happening in Soil & Crop Sciences?

Learn more about research, education, and extension in the Field of Soil & Crop Sciences

Abstract art by KAR Robison


Community remembers undergraduate student, artist and activist KAR Robison
Robison originally attended Baylor University, where they took courses in pre-medicine, philosophy and African studies. They went on to work in the field of sustainable food marketing in both San Diego and New York City for nearly 20 years...
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section
  • Natural Resources and the Environment
A black and white microscope image of soil


New imaging method views soil carbon at near-atomic scales
Improving such understanding may help researchers develop strategies for sequestering more carbon in soil, thereby keeping it out of the atmosphere where it combines with oxygen and acts as a greenhouse gas. A new study describes a breakthrough...
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section
  • Soil
a hand holds a clump of soil


State-funded study provides soil health guidelines for New York agriculture
To fill that research gap, a team of soil scientists in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), conducted a state-funded project to characterize soil health across New York state agricultural lands. Published in...
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Horticulture Section
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section
Male and female students sitting on a Zoom call holding up cardboard boxes

Field Note

Semester (un)interrupted: Innovative teaching in the hybrid semester
From navigating social distancing requirements to sending creative, do-it-yourself toolkits to their remote students, the CALS community has continued to persevere in the face of unprecedented challenges. Below, hear from several CALS faculty...
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Biology Section
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section


Scientists map soils’ potential to combat climate change
With that in mind, two Cornell soil scientists have helped develop a powerful new tool that will help researchers and policymakers map the global potential for carbon sequestration. Soils Revealed is an open-access, interactive platform that...
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section
  • Soil