Agronomy with its study of crops and soils was an integral part of the Arkansas Industrial University when it was created in the 1870's. By 1900 when the Arkansas Industrial University became the University of Arkansas, the Agriculture Department was still in large part dominated by Agronomy, and in 1905 it was organized as a separate unit named the Department of Agronomy.
The Hatch Act of 1887 and the Smith-Lever Act of 1913 both had a great deal of influence on the department relative to research and extension. By the mid 1920's the Extension Division made it possible for research locations to become organized around the state and to accomplish a goal for extending the University of Arkansas campus "to the limits of the state." The Extension programs were clearly linked to the Fayetteville campus but housed in Little Rock. It was not until 1998 that that the Extension faculty officially became part of the Department.
The Department of Agronomy was housed in the Agriculture Building after it was constructed in 1926, and the soils disciplines of the department remain in that building. The main office and most of the crops disciplines moved into the Plant Sciences Building adjoining the Agriculture Building at its completion in 1977. Meanwhile, in the late 1950's construction on the Altheimer Laboratory began and it came to house crop physiology, weed science, and forage faculty offices as well as greenhouse and laboratory space. Today it also houses the soil testing and research section of the department. In the late 1940's, the soil testing was in Gray Hall which was located where Mullins Library stands today. It was moved to a renovated barn at the Farm and finally to the Altheimer Laboratory. In 1954 an additional Soil Testing Laboratory was established at Marianna.
Curricula for the department progressed with societal, environmental, technological and economic changes from early courses almost solely involved with production agriculture to more specialized courses in soils (e.g., chemistry, physics, microbiology, fertility, genesis) and in crops (e.g., genetics, physiology, weed science). The curriculum evolution has continued in recent years to include molecular biology and environmental issues and in the 1990's the department was renamed the Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences.
Faculty and students have changed in number and gender. For many years, all students and faculty were male, but by mid century a few females had enrolled, and today at least half of the students are women. Faculty has been somewhat slower in adding women. The first joined the department in the late 1970's, and even today women make up no more than 14% of the faculty. Today the department has about 35 faculty, 159 undergraduate students and 59 graduate students along with a large number of support staff and hourly employees throughout the state.
As a separate unit in the University and then the College, The Department of Crops, Soils, and Environmental Sciences celebrated 100 years of existence in 2005.
by Martha Davis, 11/4/04 ; revised 2011