Roger Beachy, the director of the US National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), has resigned his position effective 20 May.
In a memo sent today to NIFA staff, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) undersecretary Catherine Woteki announced that the famous plant biologist would be following a time-honoured political tradition by leaving the institute to “to spend more time with his wife, his children and his grandchildren.”
Woteki said the USDA is initiating “an aggressive search” to find another distinguished scientist to replace him.
As head of NIFA, Beachy vigorously championed the need to boost funding for agricultural research. He also overhauled the institute’s competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, installing a new system that focused on producing concrete solutions to a series of grand challenges such as mitigating climate change, improving food safety, and producing sustainable biofuels.
The changes were controversial, in part because Beachy shifted funds away from individual researchers in favour of large collaborative projects. Opponents of organic farming also worried about Beachy’s support of genetically-modified crops and emphasis on technological – as opposed to traditional – approaches to plant breeding.
Nevertheless, scientists appreciated the doggedness with which Beachy worked to elevate the profile of agricultural research in political circles. “He made a lot of headway,” says Karl Glasener, director of science policy for the American Society of Agronomy in Washington, DC. “He was a new, modern face for the agricultural sciences and he took our image so far forward.”