Erin Silva appointed director of Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems for three-year term

Erin Silva at UW–Madison’s Arlington Agricultural Research Station in June 2015. Photo by Anders Gurda.

Earlier this week, Kate VandenBosch, dean of the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, announced the appointment of Erin Silva as the director of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) for a three-year term. Silva, who holds the Clif Bar Endowed Chair in Organic Agriculture and Outreach, is an associate professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and an Extension organic agriculture specialist.

As director, Silva will oversee operations of the center and work closely with the center’s governance committee to set priorities for research and outreach activities and attract external funding. Silva will also work closely with the center’s Citizen’s Advisory Council and steward other partnerships with stakeholders, donors and funding organizations.

CIAS began in 1989 to build sustainable agriculture research programs responsive to farmer and citizen needs. The center’s projects include the three decades-old Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial and a federally-funded effort to study soil health done in collaboration with the USDA’s Dairy Forage Research Center and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. In addition, the center will also serve as a hub for organic agriculture research and outreach going forward.

“Erin is well positioned to lead the center at this time,” says VandenBosch. “Her success in building partnerships with farmers, food companies, researchers and other stakeholders demonstrates her capacity to build strong networks able to work together on issues of importance to agriculture. I know that under her leadership the center will focus on transdisciplinary research and identify new opportunities for extramural support.”

Silva’s research and outreach efforts focus on improving organic and sustainable cropping systems, with a special emphasis on organic no-till production and cover crops. She directs the university’s Organic Grain Resource and Information Network (OGRAIN), a comprehensive program to provide educational support to new, transitioning and experienced organic grain farmers. She also led the establishment of the UW Organic Collaborative group and UW–Madison’s undergraduate certificate in organic agriculture.

“More than ever, the work historically undertaken by CIAS is vital to the continued strength of Wisconsin’s agriculture and food systems,” says Silva. “The COVID pandemic, along with ongoing weather uncertainty, bring to the forefront the imminent need to create resilient agricultural systems. CIAS’ work in cover crops, perennial crops, grazing, organic agriculture, and supply chains, among other topics, is vital to the creation of strong, resilient systems for farms of all sizes and farming approaches. I’m excited to be part of moving this work forward, building upon existing and new partnerships.”

Expanding on a 2021 review of the center and the subsequent strategic planning completed in 2022, Silva will implement a governance structure with input from external advisors and affiliated faculty and staff.

Silva replaces Michel Wattiaux as center director. Wattiaux, a professor of dairy science, was named CIAS interim director in 2019.

VandenBosch praised Wattiaux for his service. “Michel assumed this leadership position during a pivotal time of review of CIAS,” she says. “The vision for the future developed during this period will launch the center from a strong foundation into the next several decades.”

Silva will assume the directorship on Aug. 4, 2022.