From the family farm to UF/IFAS: The new chair of environmental horticulture

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When he was 4, Dean Kopsell moved with his family to a 200-acre nursery in northern Illinois. He spent days roaming the farm, wading in the creek that ran through the property and playing in the barns.

In high school and college, Kopsell worked summers with his dad, selling shade trees and shrubs. It seemed natural that he would study plants in college. After he earned his bachelor’s degree, Kopsell, returned to the family business and worked in the nursery.

After his parents retired, Kopsell went back to college, earning advanced degrees. Then he got his hands dirty – in a different way — toiling for nearly 20 years in research fields and labs and teaching plant sciences. Now, he has been named chair of the UF/IFAS department of environmental horticulture.

Kopsell comes to UF/IFAS from the University of Tennessee, where he has worked since 2004, the last four years as professor plant sciences. Before UT, he worked as an assistant professor of plant sciences at the University of New Hampshire.

Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, named Kopsell to the position following a national search.

“We had to choose from a number of high-quality applicants, but Dr. Kopsell stood out from the rest because of many factors,” said Payne. “He brings a broad vision and a wealth of knowledge about plant industry research, Extension and education that can help UF/IFAS continue to build its relationships with Florida’s burgeoning ornamental industry.”

Kopsell starts at UF/IFAS Aug. 25. Before coming here, Kopsell gained valuable administrative experience by working as the research coordinator for his academic department at UT as well as vice president of the research division of the American Society of Horticultural Sciences.

He said he was interested in running the UF/IFAS environmental horticulture department partially because of its talented faculty and national reputation. In addition, departmental participation in the newly formed plant science degree program will make a difference in training the next generation of horticulturalists, he said.

“One of the greatest strengths is the applied horticulture within the department,” Kopsell said. “Whole-plant horticultural physiology and plant improvement are two areas in high demand within industries, and faculty in the department are having big impacts in these areas, as well as environmental horticulture as a whole.”

Another factor that attracted Kopsell to UF/IFAS is the size and scope of the ornamental horticulture industry in Florida. Kopsell harkens to his early days at the family nursery when relating to the horticulture industry. He irrigated plants, helped with planting new stock material, helped with propagation and equipment maintenance, cultivation and loading trucks.

“Florida leads the nation in the production of many horticultural crops, and it is a tremendous opportunity to work with the industry,” he said.

Kopsell’s first goal as chair will be to visit environmental horticulture in the UF/IFAS research and education centers. Secondly, he wants to continue the strong relationships already established with the Florida green industry. Thirdly, he wants to get to know UF/IFAS and the university system.

“A good understanding of on-campus entities will help me serve the department and mentor younger faculty and staff,” Kopsell said.

His fourth goal will be to develop a new strategic plan for the department. For the future of the department, Kopsell emphasized how important it is to keep current with technology; stay relevant; reduce financial burdens as they relate to research, teaching and Extension; and attract and train the next generation of horticulturists.

At Tennessee, his research program focuses on mineral nutrition and plant physiology, specializing in increasing the nutrition of specialty crops for improved human health. He has served as lead author or a co-author on about 140 peer-reviewed articles.

Kopsell earned his bachelor’s degree in agribusiness from Illinois State University, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in horticulture from the University of Georgia.

He remembers his days in the nursery with fondness – days that laid the foundation for his current career.

“Some of my best memories were working with the crew and having them teach me how to ball and burlap hand-dug plant material,” Kopsell said.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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