Partner Profile: The USDA Agricultural Research Service

Video by Ken Ellzey

Throughout NC State University’s history, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been one of the university’s most important partners. Through its Agricultural Research Service, the agency has a strong presence on campus. Its scientists frequently work hand-in-hand with College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ faculty on research that benefits farmers, food processors and consumers in North Carolina and beyond.

Chavonda Jacobs-Young is no stranger to the partnership. She holds three NC State degrees – a bachelor’s in paper science and engineering in 1989, a master’s in wood and paper science in 1992, and a doctorate in paper science in 1998.

Since 2014, she has been administrator of the USDA ARS. The division has 8,000 employees across the country working on problem-solving research ranging from nutrition and food safety to sustainable agricultural and crop production.

This fall, she visited NC State’s campus to celebrate progress on NC State’s Plant Sciences Building and to announce that the ARS was in the early stages of planning a new building here for related sciences.

Tell us about the USDA ARS.

ARS is the USDA’s chief in-house research agency, and we leverage our resources through valuable partnerships with universities and other organizations.

President Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture in 1862 to serve the people of this country, which at that time was mostly rural and supported by agriculture. That very same year, President Lincoln also signed the Morrill Act, donating public lands to several states to establish colleges for the benefit of agriculture and mechanical arts. The resulting land-grant universities have worked in step with the ARS and USDA ever since. This great partnership with North Carolina State University is one of President Lincoln’s lasting gifts.

The result of our combined effort is the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply anywhere on this planet.

How has USDA ARS partnered with NC State and CALS?

Among the many examples of how we partner with CALS is through our work as national leaders in soybean breeding. ARS and NC State scientists explore 20,000 exotic soybean varieties to discover new genes and traits to strengthen U.S. and North Carolina soybean crops. These traits enhance productivity, improve nutritional content and protect against the ravages of drought.

At North Carolina’s Sandhills Research Station, we’re using more than 30 acres to advance this drought research. And, at the new Plant Sciences Building, ARS and NC State scientists will use new high-throughput electronics and machine-learning approaches to speed up genetic field testing. Their aim is to deliver a new drought-tolerant soybean variety to producers and consumers using innovative state-of-the-art facilities, technologies and skills.

What does the future hold for the partnership?

We are in the early stages of planning a new building on campus. When completed, these facilities will be a prize asset for agricultural science here at NC State, and they will help us build on the legacy of a strong, vital partnership. I know our proud past partnerships are a precursor to a very, very promising future.

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