Desmond R. Layne, currently a horticulture professor and academic program director at Washington State University, has been named head of the Department of Horticulture at Auburn University following a nationwide search. He will assume the position July 1 and will succeed Dave Williams, who will return to the horticulture faculty full time after a total eight years at the department’s helm.
“We look forward to welcoming Dr. Layne into the Auburn family this summer,” Auburn College of Agriculture Dean Paul Patterson said in announcing Layne’s selection. “He has extensive knowledge of and a strong commitment to the land-grant mission of teaching, research and extension and will be an excellent fit for this role. I am confident he will lead our horticulture department to new heights.
“I also would like to thank Dr. Williams for his steady leadership of the Department of Horticulture in his eight years as head,” Patterson said. “He strengthened our industry relationships and sustained a reputation of excellence in our teaching programs.”
Layne has been on the Washington State faculty since 2013, serving the first two years as an Endowed Chair responsible for directing the Tree Fruit Extension Team in the state that ranks number one in the nation in apple, pear and sweet cherry production.
In 2015, he transitioned to his present role as professor of pomology, or fruit science, and director of two Washington State interdisciplinary academic programs—Agricultural and Food Systems and Integrated Plant Sciences—that encompass 11 undergraduate majors and almost 500 students in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. Layne also is the tree fruit extension specialist for the state.
Before joining Washington State, he spent 15 years with Clemson University’s horticulture department, where he advanced from assistant professor to full professor, led the State Horticulture Program Team and served as the state peach specialist for Clemson Cooperative Extension.
He said he is honored to become the next leader of a department that has been educating exceptional horticulturists and providing critical, research-based information and extension outreach to the state and region for more than a century.
“I am excited about working with an outstanding faculty and staff to continue the programs Auburn horticulture is revered for while also exploring new opportunities through faculty hires, competitive grants and new partnerships with community colleges, other universities and industry partners to enhance its footprint and impact regionally, nationally and internationally,” he said.
A native Canadian, Layne said he and his family are eager to relocate from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South.
“In the years we were at Clemson, we adopted the South as our home away from home,” he said. “We love the warm and humid climate, the hospitality, the lifestyle, the available ornamental plant palette and, of course, the peaches and look forward to returning.”
Layne holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and master’s and doctoral degrees in horticulture with an emphasis in pomology from Michigan State University.