Nair announced as next Department of Horticulture chair at Iowa State

Ajay Nair
Ajay Nair

AMES, Iowa – Ajay Nair will bring an across-the-board enthusiasm for all aspects of horticulture and global resource systems, and more than a decade of experience as a faculty member as he takes the helm of Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture next year.

Effective July 1, 2024, Nair, professor of horticulture in Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will become the next department chair. He will continue the impactful work of Jeff Iles, who has served in the role since 2001, making Iles one of the longest-serving and most accomplished chairs in the college’s history. Iles will remain active in the department as a faculty member.

“Ajay is an excellent selection to step into the role as the newest department chair. His impressive work advancing fruit and vegetable production techniques and knowledge of the department itself will serve him well in his new role,” said Daniel J. Robison, endowed dean’s chair of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We are incredibly grateful for Jeff’s more than 20 years of remarkable service leading the department and growing it into the successful program it is today. I am pleased he is staying on as a faculty member and will continue sharing his expertise.”

As a primarily Extension-based faculty member, Nair has interacted with countless growers and community members across the state, leading on-farm demonstrations at grower plots, field experiments at Iowa State facilities and organizing various workshops and outreach events. Between those well-attended activities and radio and television interviews, Nair estimates he has reached more than 270,000 people.

He also serves as principal investigator of the Sustainable Vegetable Production lab, which aims to enhance crop production, soil health and cropping system profitability for vegetable production in Iowa. Lab projects have studied the use of cover crops, high tunnels, soil amendments and integrated cropping systems.

Nair’s latest project involves leading an innovative agrivoltaics study, looking at how well fruit and vegetable crops grow under solar panels. The research involves a team of colleagues from multiple departments and will occur at the new Alliant Energy Solar Farm at Iowa State University, south of Ames.

“It is an honor to be chosen as the next chair of the Department of Horticulture,” Nair said. “These are some big shoes to fill. Dr. Iles has built a strong horticulture department, which is revered around the country. I look forward to this six-month transition period where I can work with him closely in preparation to take over chair responsibilities.”

Iles is quick to point out that advancements in the department that occurred during his tenure are not personal victories but instead reflect a departmental culture that selflessly values and embraces the best of Iowa State’s land grant traditions. From the planning, fundraising and construction of new greenhouses to the hiring of great faculty, including Dr. Nair, Iles said the focus has always been on keeping the department strong, relevant and competitive.

“Dr. Nair is especially well-equipped to be the next leader of this department,” Iles said. “His academic credentials are impeccable, his ability to work with and lead people is proven, and his genuine concern for the well-being of co-workers, clients and this department is without question. We are in good hands and poised for even better things ahead.”

In addition to Nair’s Extension work, he teaches several courses related to horticultural crop production and management. He has also served as a major professor or committee member for 48 graduate students at Iowa State.

Outside the university, Nair has been involved with several state and national organizations. He is in the middle of a term as vice president of the American Society for Horticultural Science. He also serves on the Iowa Organic Advisory Council and the Pesticide Advisory Committee for the State of Iowa. He works closely with Iowa Specialty Growers Association and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

“Iowa State’s horticulture department is proud of its relationship with students, growers, industry, grower organizations, urban and rural communities, local and federal agencies, youth and the general public,” Nair said. “My goal is to further enhance these connections and build a strong horticulture program, building off of the work of my predecessors.”

Nair earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Kerala Agricultural University. He also holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of Maine and a doctoral degree in horticulture from Michigan State University.


Ajay Nair, Department of Horticulture, 515-294-7080,

Whitney Baxter, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications, 515-294-2314,