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Entomologist takes charge of US agricultural research institute

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), a key component of the US  Department of Agriculture’s research effort, has a new director.  Sonny Ramaswamy (pictured at right), an entomologist by training and former dean of the school of agricultural science at Oregon State University and director of its Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, was officially sworn in this week the USDA announced on 9 May.

NIFA funds research, education and extension programs across the country through the Land-Grant University System and partner organizations.  In a statement, Catherine Woteki, the USDA’s Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics said of Ramaswamy: “He has proven his commitment to students, to the research community and to furthering scientific knowledge over his long career, and I’m confident he will carry that commitment with him every day at USDA.”

The institute has been without permanent leadership for nearly a year, since former director Roger Beachy left in May 2011 after less than two years in office. An advocate for genetically modified crops amid growing enthusiasm for organics, Beachy controversially reorganized the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), NIFA’s flagship competitive grants program, to include a wide variety of interdisciplinary projects from studies on obesity to large scale plant genomics.

Like other science agencies, NIFA may face budget cuts later this year. However, on 26 April the US Senate Appropriations Committee supported NIFA’s request for $1.239 billion for fiscal year 2013, a $36 million increase over 2012 numbers. NIFA’s budget is not expected to be finalized until later this year — probably after the dust has settled on a highly charged 2012 presidential election campaign.

US President Obama announced his intention to appoint Ramaswamy on 9 March. Ramaswamy replaces acting director Chavonda Jacobs-Young.

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