Roger Beachy of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, will be the first director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Advocates for agricultural research hope that by putting a high-profile scientist in charge, the Administration can boost Congress’s interest in supporting competitive research at USDA. The appointment was announced this afternoon at a symposium at the Danforth Center and does not require Senate confirmation.
NIFA is the new home for USDA's external research funding. Created by the 2008 Farm Bill, it begins operation 1 October. NIFA replaces the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, which distributes $200 million in competitive grants and about $280 million in "formula funding" to land-grant universities. The Farm Bill adds another $106 million annually of competitive funding for research into organic farming, biomass, and fruits and vegetables. It also calls for a "distinguished scientist" to be appointed for a 6-year term as director.
Beachy certainly qualifies. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Beachy has been president of the Danforth Center since its founding in 1998. He did early work on creating transgenic plants that can resist viruses and has long been an advocate for plant biotechnology as a tool to improve agriculture in developing countries. In 1991, he co-founded the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology while at the Scripps Research Institute.
"I think he's terrific,” says Robert Paarlberg, a professor of political science at Wellesley College in Massachusetts who studies international agricultural policy. “His skills in working with people are unsurpassed. He's a very good communicator."
Beachy’s interests in biotechnology and the developing world closely match those of his new boss, USDA’s Under Secretary for Research Rajiv Shah. They also fit with President Barack Obama’s desire to increase agricultural assistance to developing countries.