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USDA's Agricultural Research Service Honors Scientists of the Year

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2021—For her outstanding contributions to research on crop responses to global climate change, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Lisa A. Ainsworth is the agency's Distinguished Senior Research Scientist of the Year for 2021. Ainsworth, research leader for the ARS Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit in Urbana, Illinois (Midwest Area), is one of many ARS researchers being honored for their scientific achievements.

Ainsworth joined the Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit in 2004 as a plant molecular biologist and has served as research leader since 2019. Her research aimed to find solutions for challenges affecting food production and security. Her work influenced the direction of climate change impact assessment and adaptation for federal, non-governmental organization and philanthropic efforts.

Distinguished Senior Research Scientist Lisa A. Ainsworth
Distinguished Senior Research Scientist Lisa A. Ainsworth

Ainsworth notably served as a lead investigator for the joint ARS and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment (SoyFACE) Global Change Research Facility. SoyFACE is one of the largest and most comprehensive Free Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE) facilities in the world for studying crop responses to atmospheric change.

ARS also named four 2021 Area Senior Research Scientists of the Year. They are—

  • James R. Hagler, with ARS’s U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Arizona, (Pacific West Area), for pioneering widely-used methods in studying arthropod dispersal and feeding behavior. His innovative biological control and insect dispersal research techniques have been adopted by researchers throughout the world.
  • Tracy C. Leskey, with ARS’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia, (Northeast Area), for her comprehensive research on the invasive brown marmorated stink bug. Her team’s research led to developing sustainable, long-term management strategies.
  • Gary A. Rohrer, with ARS’s U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska (Plains Area), for his leadership and development of genomic technologies which resulted in improvements in pork production and animal well-being.
  • David L. Suarez, with ARS’s Exotic & Emerging Avian Viral Diseases Research Unit in Athens, Georgia (Southeast Area), for his outstanding and sustained research on the Avian influenza virus (AIV), Newcastle disease virus (NDV) and emerging exotic diseases in poultry. His research led to the development and implementation of rapid molecular diagnostic tests for AIV and NDV in poultry. These diagnositic tests helped with eradication efforts. The unit is part of the ARS’s U.S. National Poultry Research Center.

ARS is also honoring scientists who are in the early phases of their careers. The early-career awards recognize the achievements of ARS researchers with the agency for seven years or less.

This year, the top award in this category, the Herbert L. Rothbart Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist of 2021, goes to Amanda M. Hulse-Kemp, a computational biologist at ARS’s Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Unit in Stoneville, Mississippi (Southeast Area). Hulse-Kemp is being recognized for her contributions to ARS, national and international research teams. Her work resulted in high-quality, impactful research and technology transfer.

Hulse-Kemp worked on national and international collaborative efforts to develop high-quality genome sequences for a large range of crops. Her accomplishments include researching cotton genomes which was critical for the advancement of cotton research and breeding. She also worked on developing genome sequences for coffea arabica, spinach and pepper.

ARS is honoring four other Area Early Career Research Scientists. They are—

  • Anna K. Childers, with ARS’s Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland (Northeast Area), for her scientific contributions to Ag100Pest, an ARS initiative to sequence the genomes of the top 100 agricultural pests in the U.S. Her work led to ARS and Ag100Pest being in the forefront of international insect genomics. The unit is part of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.
  • Brittney N. Keel, with ARS’s U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska (Plains Area), for applying machine learning and novel mathmatical modeling to complex livestock genomic analyses. Significant advancements in the livestock genomics and precision agriculture fields were made as the result of Keel’s work.
  • Jason Williams, with ARS’s Southwest Watershed Research Center, Tucson, Arizona (Pacific West Area), for his significant contributions to understanding and modeling the impacts of management practices on runoff and erosion processes on western rangelands. His research contributed to advances in applying the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion and Model (RHEM) as a tool to assess and predict woodland responses to conservation practices as well as guide management decisions on these landscapes.
  • Mark R. Williams, with ARS’s National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory, West Lafayette, Indiana (Midwest Area), for his significant contributions and advancements to understanding hydrology and nutrient movement in agricultural tile drained landscapes. His research led to enhancements in simulation technologies and informed policy decisions related to conservation practices.

The agency also announced its 2021 ARS Technology Transfer Award winner. This Award recognizes individuals or groups who have done outstanding work in transferring technology to the marketplace.

This year’s winner is the Sensor Based Automatic Variable Rate Irrigation Control Team. The team included researchers from ARS’s Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas; ARS’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland; ARS’s Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research Unit in Florence, South Carolina; ARS’s Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit in Columbia, Missouri; and ARS’s Sustainable Water Management Research Unit in Stoneville, Mississippi.

To address the increasing national and global need to irrigate crops with an increasingly limited water supply, ARS researchers, along with academia, developed the Irrigation Scheduling Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (ISSCADA) system. Their multi-pronged technology development and transfer effort resulted in the patenting of the ISSCADA system.

The system automatically produced a daily prescription for variable rate irrigation (VRI) that can guide an irrigation system without human intervention. The system optimized crop yields per unit of water used. Tests for the ISSCADA system consistently showed increased yield per unit of irrigation water used for major crops including corn, cotton, potato, sorghum and soybean.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.

The original article appeared on the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service's website.

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