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A Year in the Office of the Chief Scientist

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

2011 is the first full calendar year that the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) has been staffed and running. First established by the 2008 Farm Bill, the OCS has since been filled out with senior advisors and agency scientists working with USDA’s Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics (REE) Dr. Catherine Woteki. Together, they coordinate and translate the science of USDA research agencies into meaningful products and communicate to USDA stakeholders and the general public about USDA science. Here is what OCS has achieved this past year:

Scientific Integrity: USDA released its policy on scientific integrity earlier this year, the development of which was coordinated by OCS. The policy directs everyone at USDA involved in applying science to adhere to certain guidelines, including using peer-reviewed information, making scientific findings public, and engaging scientists in media outreach. Look for more in 2012.

Animal and Plant Health: OCS has also played a coordinating role in exploring new research around animal and plant pathogens, as well as the impacts and enhancements of new discoveries that can help to diminish threats to crops and herds from diseases.

Climate Change: OCS has been examining the research portfolio of USDA around climate variability; nitrogen fixation; crop growth under adverse conditions, drought or salinity; and other impacts of weather. OCS has commented on numerous documents on the subject of climate change, including the USDA-wide agency adaptation plan and the technical report on Rural Communities for the 2013 National Climate Assessment. This information will add to other information gathered by USDA on impacts on rural communities in the United States, and will be helpful in aiding governments and businesses when making decisions related to investment.

Food Security: OCS has played an integral role coordinating USDA’s work to enhance domestic food security and to apply that work in the Feed the Future (FTF) initiative. Since many threats to global food security can also impact U.S. agriculture, USDA has continued to work on issues such as plant and animal diseases and the development of new nutritious food sources. Work with the land grant universities has been strengthened on these important topics. Over the past year, the office has strengthened ties with USAID, engaged in outreach with minority groups interested in FTF, and finalized the research strategy for food security, including working with American Public and Land grant Universities (APLU) to bring in the broader research community. Under this research strategy, USDA is also partnering with USAID to increase the productivity of dried beans and pulses; to control and prevent wheat stem rust (Ug99); to develop a vaccine for East Coast Fever; to develop genomic/genetic tools to enhance goat production; and to reduce the incidence of aflatoxin in world food crops.

Sustainability: OCS helped to organize the Organic Farming Systems Research Conference that was held in March 2011. It was the first time USDA held a conference on organic research across biophysical, environmental, social, and economic fields of study. The conference was a rousing success with roughly 200 attendees. 98 percent of those surveyed said that they found the conference valuable or very valuable, and nearly 72 percent said they would do something differently as a result of the conference.

For more information on OCS, visit our website

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