Roger N. Beachy has been appointed the first director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture by President Barack Obama. Beachy will join the agency on October 5, 2009.

[Editor's note: Not familiar with USDA/NFIA? That's because it's a new agency that will take over all authorities previously administered by the CSREES -- the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service as of Oct. 1, 2009, as called for in the farm bill.]

Beachy is the founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo., a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research at the Danforth Center will feed the hungry and improve human health, preserve and renew the environment, and enhance the St. Louis region and Missouri as a world center for plant science.

"This exciting new agency is critical to growing our agriculture economy and ensures that innovation in plant science and agriculture research will flourish," Beachy said in a prepared statement. "I have been a strong proponent of the NIFA as have the scientists at the Danforth Plant Science Center, and of course our Chairman, Dr. Danforth. I am honored to have been selected for this position by the President and am committed to sharing my knowledge and experiences to help shape research and its applications that will impact agriculture and food in the U.S. and in developing economies."

The NIFA mission is to stimulate and fund the research and technological innovations that will enhance and make American agriculture more productive and environmentally sustainable while ensuring the economic viability of agriculture and production. Established in the 2008 Farm Bill, the new agency will have a proposed budget of $1.3 billion and 300 employees. Congress is currently debating the amount of research funding the agency will distribute through competitive grants, but a proposed figure hovers at $250 million. The USDA in recent years has distributed between $120 million and $180 million in competitive research grants. Development of NIFA has been a major legislative priority of APLU and its Board on Agriculture Assembly for several years.

"The appointment of Roger Beachy as the founding director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture is an excellent choice to lead USDA's new premier science agency," said Ian Maw, APLU vice president, food, agriculture and natural resources. "As an eminent scientist, Dr. Beachy's experience will be an important major asset during the NIFA's formative years. The higher education research community looks forward to working with Dr. Beachy and his staff to address the many challenges facing agriculture and related sciences."

Prior to joining the Danforth Center, Beachy held academic positions at Washington University in St. Louis and The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, where he was co-founder of the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology and held the Scripps Family Chair in Cell Biology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the premier scientific society in the United States, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and the AAAS: he is also a Foreign Associate of science academies in India.

A few of his awards include the Wolf Prize in Agriculture, the D. Robert Hoagland Award from the Society of Plant Biologists and Ruth Allen Award from the American Phytopathological Society. Beachy has served as Chair of the AAAS Section on Agriculture, Food and Renewable Resources and is President of the International Association of Plant Biotechnology, among other activities. He also serves on a number of boards of non-profit organizations, including of St. Louis Children's Hospital, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Science Center, Academy of Science of St. Louis.

Since Beachy became the Danforth center's first president on Jan. 1, 1999, he has been responsible for setting the scientific mission of the center; under his watch the Center has achieved several milestones worth noting including:

  • The establishment of a $75 million award-winning facility and an endowment of nearly $100 million;
  • Recruiting more than two dozen outstanding principal investigators and 170 plant scientists, including 95 Ph.Ds;
  • Attracting more than $75 million in research grants, including a $5.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation for maize genome research and two grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation totaling $12 million as part of the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative which seeks to identify and direct funds to the most critical scientific challenges in global health;
  • Establishing the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels through a $25 million gift from the Taylor Family, the Institute recently attracted a $15 million award from the Department of Energy;
  • Creating a research park on the Danforth Center campus to maximize opportunities for commercializing promising plant and life science companies that will contribute to the economic development and growth of the St. Louis region. The first of three buildings of the BioResearch and Development Growth Park opened on June 16, 2009 and is already 65% leased;
  • Establishing the Global Harvest Alliance, a partnership between the Danforth Center, Washington University School of Medicine, and Saint Louis Children's Hospital to address childhood malnutrition.

  • SOURCE: Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.