USDA Chief Scientist Woteki attends ADSA/ASAS JAM

Hoard's Dairyman: 

USDA Chief Scientist Woteki attends ADSA/ASAS JAM

Date: 
Wed, 07/13/2011

We planned to provide more information on groups that help form the farm bill today, but instead will save that for future Wednesdays.

Two of our editors had the opportunity to spend the week at the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) and American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) 2011. Later today, USDA’s Dr. Catherine Woteki, Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), and Chief Scientist, will address the 1,200 attendees in New Orleans, La.

We had a chance to sit down with her this morning. Dr. Woteki has a very diverse list of past job experiences. Her D.C. experience includes two years in the Clinton White House, including co-authoring the policy paper, “Science in the National Interest.” From 1997 to 2001 she served as the first USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety.

From there, she left the East Coast to become Dean of Iowa State University’s agriculture school. In 2005, she left to become global director of scientific affairs for Mars, Inc. Mars is no inter-planetary research association, you may be familiar with their brands; M&M’s, Milk Way, Juicy Fruit, Starburst, Snickers, Twix, and of course, Mars bars. In 2010 she returned the public sector in her current position with REE.

Dr. Woteki is attending the ADSA/ASAS JAM because she “thinks it is very important to stay in touch with the scientific community.” Further, in her role as USDA’s Chief Scientist, she believes it is imperative to stay up on the latest research in the industry. In tonight’s speech, she will of course touch on the state of agricultural appropriations coming from Washington, D.C. – a hot topic for many who talk to her.

But she also wants to talk more about an on-going USDA REE project in partnership with the public land grant universities to get a better sense of where students are in the animal science and agricultural science pipeline. They want to fully evaluate the number of students we have at all levels of research; including associate degrees and certificate programs, bachelor and graduate degrees, and doctorate work. From there, they will look to find ways to refocus programs – across all departments, to better serve and better invest in tomorrow’s animal scientists.

While Dean of Iowa State’s agriculture school, she entered at time when all agriculture schools were experiencing a drop in agricultural enrollees and interest – in undergraduate work only. Since then, Iowa State and other schools have grown undergraduate agricultural enrollment. “I think that is attributed to the jobs available, and a much bigger interest in food in recent years,” she said this morning.

Rural communities are another focus of the Vilsack administration. I asked her about the progress in plans to reinvigorate rural economies, and she noted the project developed by USDA’s Economic Research Service. Their online Rural Atlas provides 90 different county-level datasets relating to the assets and demographics in those communities. These could be used for research in value-added agriculture or people that might be comparing areas. You can see the Rural Atlas at http://blogs.usda.gov/tag/rural-atlas/.

Finally, I asked her if she feared that any of her work could be thwarted if the administration changed during the next Presidential election. Under Secretary Woteki explained that her background is all science, and that is how everything is evaluated at USDA REE. At the same time, Congress has been very bi-partisan in the past on agriculture and especially agricultural research when the science proves an answer. She explained simply, “That isn’t anything that keeps me up at night.”