U.S. farmers pride themselves on using science to enhance their operations. The Agricultural Research Service, or ARS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wants to help farmers do that.

The ARS "delivers scientific solutions for national and global agricultural changes" and seeks to "provide global leadership in agricultural discoveries though scientific excellence, according to information from Chavonda Jacobs-Young, ARS administrator and acting undersecretary for USDA's research, education and economics division.

She spoke at a recent webinar sponsored by the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research, which describes itself as a "nonprofit, nonpartisan, consensus-based, and customer-led coalition that brings food, agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and natural resource stakeholders together with the food and agriculture research and Extension community."

According to information presented during the webinar: ARS has 690 research projects, including 15 national ones; a $1.4 billion budget; 2,000 scientists and postdoctoral researchers; and 6,000 support positions. It has 90 locations worldwide, including three in North Dakota, two each in Minnesota and Montana, and one each each in Iowa and South Dakota.

"Every day ARS scientists collaborate with farmers and producers to deliver safe, healthy agricultural products to consumers in the United States and around the world," she said.

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It does so in four main areas: animal production and protection; nutrition, food safety and quality; natural resources and sustainable ag systems; and crop production and protection.

"Science drives all of this. Our scientists, engineers, soil scientists, hydrologists, plant pathologists, economists (and others) are all well-educated, are passionate public servants with a keen interest in innovation and a vision of what is possible," she said.

Many of the scientists have been with ARS for decades, she said.

Modernizing USDA facilities is a priority, because the average age of its laboratories is 47 years old, and 27% of its facilities are at least 60 years old, she said.

Other priorities for ARS under the administration of President Joe Biden:

  • COVID relief and workforce safety.
  • Equality and inclusion.
  • Addressing hunger.
  • Addressing climate change.
  • Working for "open markets and "far competition."
  • Rebuilding rural America better than it had been.
  • Rebuilding ARS and its workforce.

And, among other things, ARS has established a center for artificial intelligence. "Of course, ARS scientists have been working with artificial intelligence, and (now) we're working to formalize and take our interest and effort in this area to the next level," Jacobs-Young said.

Scientists from six organizations, including the University of California, Davis, UC Berkeley, Cornell University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, are working "to use artificial information to create the next-generation food system," according to the ARS website.