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Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer (left) is flanked by Chavonda Jacobs-Young, administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, and Plains area director Laurence Chandler, at a renaming of Fargo area ARS laboratories for Schafer, who also served as a two-term governor. Photo taken Oct. 23, 2018, in Fargo. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

USDA labs renamed for Schafer

FARGO, N.D.—More than 150 dignitaries and U.S. Department of Agriculture research officials were on hand to formally rename a federal agricultural laboratory in Fargo for Ed T. Schafer, the only North Dakotan to ever have been named U.S. secretary of agriculture.

The USDA's Agricultural Research Service held under a large tent in front of the original part of the laboratory, where Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and several others feted Schafer, 72, and unveiled new signs for the laboratory on the NDSU campus, east and south of the Fargodome.

Chavonda Jacobs-Young, administrator of the ARS, complimented Schafer on the drive to "identify a challenge, look for possible answers, and then keep running tests until a solution is found. You share the conviction that answers can be found if you look hard enough." She noted that the lab and the ARS "imbues your character."

"Thank you for allowing us to share your name," Jacobs-Young said. "We'll take good care of it." In May 2017, Cramer, who once worked as North Dakota commerce commissioner for then-Gov. Schafer, introduced a bipartisan bill in the U.S. House to rename the lab, which formerly was known as the Red River Valley Agricultural Research Center.

Many of the stories about him as a governor were about him taking governance to the people of small towns. Schafer served two terms as North Dakota governor from 1992 to 2000.

Ag science, morality

Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer (right) is congratulated by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.Some of Cramer and Schafer's remarks had Christian religious references and the value of community. "Citizens of rural communities know how to work hard; they have to provide," Schafer said. "They are heavily churched because they understand that our founding fathers built into our system the necessity of self-generating morals and ethics if we are going to remain a free country, My point is this: We must preserve the rural way of life because agriculture allows us to plant and grow the basics of humanity that knit together our society. And agricultural research is the key to unlock that huge potential, to reshape the way we harvest, produce, store, distribute and consume."

On Jan. 29, 2008, Schafer was sworn in as secretary of agriculture, promoted for the position by Sens. Kent Conrad, and Byron Dorgan, as well as then-Rep. Earl Pomeroy, all North Dakota Democrats. Schafer held the post the last two years of the George W. Bush administration.

As secretary, Schafer grappled with animal welfare and food safety issues, and was involved in the passage of the 2008 federal farm bill. He "restructured and reshaped 29 agencies, modernized the focus of $285 billion in program delivery, and developed a new process for implementing the 2008 farm bill," said a biographical sketch provided in the program.

Schafer went on to be interim president of the University of North Dakota, his alma mater. Cramer is challenging Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who did not attend the ceremony but sent a letter of support. Cramer served eight years in Schafer's gubernatorial cabinet—four years as tourism director, four years in economic development and finance

'Ed's shoulders'

"It is on Ed's shoulders that we all stand," Cramer said. Cramer thanked House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who supported the renaming bill.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Edward T. Schafer (fourth from left) and his wife, Nancy, take photos with officials.The center now bearing Schafer's name coordinates five research units in two labs — the Biosciences Research Laboratory (often identified by its red roof) and the Northern Crop Science Laboratory (blue roof). Both are on the campus and officials like David Buchanan, NDSU associate dean, hailed the close relationship between USDA-ARS and NDSU scientists, involving more than 30 current research projects.

Among other things, the scientists here study how to:

• Reduce negative impacts on foreign chemicals in food animals and food processing;

• Develop knowledge and germplasm to improve hard red spring and durum wheat, as well as barley and oats;

• Improve effectiveness of bees used in crop pollination, as well as insects used in integrated pest management programs.

Scientists also work on improving the quality and profitability of sugar beet and potato crops.

John Sandbakken is executive director of the National Sunflower Association, and co-chairman of the the "research partners group" for the research center. Sandbakken praised Schafer for being a "great advocate for agriculture" and also USDA research scientists and staffs for doing important work, especially for specialty and relatively smaller-acreage crops such as sunflowers and sugar beets.